Ladakh Ice Hockey Teams Bask In Their New-Found Identities

Ladakh got its independent ice hockey teams after attaining Union Territory status in October 2019. The men’s and women’s outfits have made a good impression at the Khelo India Winter Games 2024 in Leh

Photo: DIPR-Ladakh
The Ladakh women’s ice hockey team that won silver at the Khelo India Winter Games 2024. Photo: DIPR-Ladakh

The ice hockey teams of the Union Territory of Ladakh have been making news for all the right reasons. Ever since Ladakh was separated from Jammu and Kashmir and given Union Territory status in October 2019, the men’s and women’s teams have found their own identities in Indian ice hockey. (More Sports News)

The men’s team created history at the 13th national ice-hockey championships held in Kaza, Himachal Pradesh, from January 19-24, 2024. Ladakh men outsmarted favourites ITBP 4-1 to clinch the national title. It was a dream come true after 11 years. Ladakhi women finished with the silver after losing to ITBP 2-1. The final was decided by a shootout.

“The gold at Kaza is just the beginning. We hope to bring gold next year as well and the year after that too,” said youngster Ghulam Mustafa, who plays as a defender. The joy of representing Ladakh is palpable on his face.

Ice hockey has been dominated by the Army and ITBP teams. To challenge them and win the nationals as an independent UT has indeed been a creditable performance. Ladakh women have done better than the men, having won the gold in 2022 and the silver medals in 2021, 2023 and 2024. Ladakh men won silver in 2021 nationals and bronze in 2022 and 2023.

At the Khelo India Winter Games 2024 in Leh, the Ladakh teams made a good impression. While the Ladakh men’s team lost in the semifinals against ITBP, the women went all the way to the final but were humbled by the ITBP girls 4-0.

For 24-year-old Stanzin Angchok, the captain of the Ladakh men’s team, it’s been quite a journey. Having taken up the sport at 13, Stanzin talks about how he went from playing on borrowed equipment to becoming the captain of the UT team.

“Our current team consists of young players and we as a team have received a lot of help from the Ice Hockey Association of Ladakh as well as Ice Hockey Association of India. There is a stereotype in Ladakh that Army and ITBP teams are the ones that are always in the final. This, we have broken at the Kaza nationals,” said Stanzin.

Tsewang Gyalson is a superstar in the Ladakh men’s team. The defender was India captain from 2015 to 2019. He emphasizes the importance of rearing a team made of civilians. “It’s a great opportunity for Ladakhis. My hope is that we can represent India on the international front and be regarded as a great team,” said Gyalson.

Ladakh has been focusing on younger players to build sides for the future. The youngest in both the UT teams are school-going teenagers. In the men’s team, it is the 17-year-old goalkeeper Tsewang Namgyal and in the women’s team, it is Samina Khatun, all of 14!

“The selection for the UT Ladakh teams happens by a committee that focuses on key areas like skating, puck handling, agility, positioning, etc. Discipline is a very important factor for the team. This led to our win at Kaza,” said men’s team coach Karma Rigyal Stan.

The Ladakh men’s ice hockey team that won gold at the nationals in Kaza, Himachal Pradesh in January 2024. Photo: ICAL

Tsewang Chuskit, 30, remembers how times have changed in Ladakh ice hockey. Hailing from the Tangtse village, Chuskit is the captain of the women’s team since 2020. “When we started out as ice hockey players, there were not many who played the sport and there was a time when we used to send messages to each other to come and be a part of the team. Now, 65 girls applied to be part of the UT Ladakh team before the Kaza nationals,” said Chuskit.

Ice hockey comes naturally to Ladakh players. “We have access to natural ice facilities that are not too far away from our homes. I started my journey when I was 10 years old and at that age, everyone around me played ice hockey, be it my brother or uncle. I think we Ladakhis have this opportunity that we can start at a very young age and better our careers,” said Chuskit.

Till 2022, the national women's ice hockey team was made up entirely of girls from Ladakh. Talking about future aspirations of the team, the captain added, “I hope that one day all the young players from the team get an opportunity to play at the international level,” said Chuskit.

The women ice hockey players of Ladakh have played a key role in promoting the sport. In 2015, the Ladakh Women’s Ice Hockey Foundation was formed. In 2018, three coaches from LWIHF travelled to Kaza to train young ones in Himachal Pradesh. They gifted 50 skates to the kids and trained them for 15 days. The best 15 were then given advanced coaching in Leh. These kids represented Himachal at the 2019 Gulmarg nationals.

This is the first time that the women’s category has been included in the Khelo India Winter Games ice-hockey programme. Four teams -- Ladakh, ITBP, Himachal Pradesh and Telangana -- participated.