Here’s a test: Right or wrong? There’s no way that ice hockey is played in the hot and steamy subtropical island of Taiwan, correct?
Oh, quite the contrary, my friends.
There is a thriving ice-hockey scene here, based in Taipei. Dominated by players from overseas 20 years ago, today expat players are very much in the minority. The expat-player community is open and welcoming, not concerned with your level of skill, and because of today’s social media connections is constantly welcoming expat newbies who’ve made contact with the community prior to their big move from abroad. They arrive with equipment in hand, and are on the ice making new friends within a few days, helping them more easily settle into Taiwan life. (You might also like: The Best Sports Bars in Taipei)
For many – like myself – the hockey community becomes a core in their social life. I’ve made friends with many local Taiwan players, of course, and with many Canadians and Americans, who dominate the expat group. But I’ve also met and established friendships with good people from the UK, Scandinavia, Poland, the Czech Republic, Japan, Australia, and many other lands. In the pages to follow I’ll give you a capsule history of hockey in Taiwan, the key elements of today’s expat-community hockey scene, and help with how to become part of it if interested.
|About the Author|
|Rick Charette is a Canadian editorial consultant, translator, and professional writer who covers topics about Taiwanese culture and society for National Geographic, Insight Guides, Michelin and more. After having moved to Taiwan for more than 30 years, Rick and his wife call the Taipei area home. His hobbies include playing ice hockey, watching ice hockey games and writing about ice hockey!!|
Ice Hockey – Yesterday to Today
It all began with the US military hockey invasion. Uh, let me rephrase that … the US military introduction of a new sport. US forces were posted here mid-century through 1979, and personnel brought ice hockey to Taipei’s Shilin area, joined by diplomatic personnel and other foreigners, and by local folk interested in learning this exotic sport.
The military folk packed up and left in 1979, and the hockey facility was finally closed in the latter 1980s. The complex still exists – the Yuanshan Recreation Center (圓山育樂中心). Hockey was played on the low-ceiling first level, under a bowling alley – “dark, ceiling so low, wet ice, like a cave – but just great!” says Jeff Blaumer. He’s the only expat I’ve met who played there, a businessman who retired and returned to Taiwan last year. I play pick-up hockey with him Tuesday nights.
After a long dry spell, a new ice rink finally opened up in the late 1990s – in the city of Taichung. For Taipei-area players – this is where I enter the story — this meant two-plus-hour bus or car drives each way for a few hours of hockey. We undertook this willingly, thrilled to have ice, every few weeks. This place failed, then came two more doomed ice-rink ventures in the Taipei area. All these were private ventures.
Then, hallelujah, a permanent base for Taiwan hockey finally opened in 2005, the Taipei Arena, built by the city. It has its own Taipei Metro stop, MRT Taipei Arena Station. Hockey is played in its Ice Land facility. In the years since two other private-investment Taipei rinks have opened and closed, leaving just one other sheet in the Taipei area. This is Frozone, in New Taipei City’s Tucheng Civil Sports Center, a 15min walk from the metro’s MRT Haishan Station (Bannan Line).
Today, expat players can take part in league play, and if not interested in organized competition can opt exclusively for the regular pick-up hockey sessions. To ensure player safety, there’s no body contact, and full equipment is required. The nature of the expat world, of course, is that people constantly come and go from Taiwan for personal and professional reasons. The inflow of new blood is constant, and warmly welcomed. To get involved, you have two primary channels, the Taipei Gentlemen’s Hockey Club and the Original Six Hockey League. (More about professional sports in Taiwan: World Renowned Triathlete Couple Takes-On Challenge Taiwan)
Taipei Gentlemen’s Hockey Club
The TGHC, simply called the “Gents” within the local expat hockey-playing crowd, was formed in 2011. The man to contact about all things Gents is Josh Smith (email@example.com), a western Canadian. “We saw how the expat-player community had become so close-knit, and decided we wanted to create something more formal. We play fun, pickup-based hockey each week, currently Thursday nights at Taipei Arena, and also have a Gents hockey team in the adult recreational Taipei Ice Hockey League (TIHL). This league’s other teams are almost exclusively made up of local players. In fact, Gents have been the coaches for many of these players as they have come up, and note that some local players are also Gents.”
Gents members enjoy discounts in all the many hockey-related and other activities associated with the TGHC, and are given priority for TGHC teams and pick-up sessions. Note that all other hockey-playing members of the expat and local hockey community are also fully welcomed—and take much part in – both the Gents’ hockey and extracurricular activities.
Beyond the Taipei competitive and pick-up hockey, Smith says, “We organize TGHC and TGHC-affiliated local tournaments, organize teams for overseas tournaments, play friendlies (exhibition games), have a TGHC softball team in a local rec league, and organize TGHC annual meetings-cum-parties, Christmas parties, golf outings, and other special sporting events. Canada’s Moosehead Breweries sponsors both our hockey and softball teams. If you’re new to Taiwan and like hockey, we offer a great way to settle in and make new kindred-spirit friends.”
Original Six Hockey League
The OSHL, or 06, is a new face on the block, launched in 2020. The co-founders are Mike Jensen (firstname.lastname@example.org), another western Canadian, and Alex Whalen, an eastern Canadian. Both are from the TGHC orbit, but run the league separately.
“We wanted a fun, relaxed league where people could enjoy the thrill of competition without things getting too serious,” says Jensen. “A key goal was to encourage people to come out to play who perhaps have shied away to this point because the other leagues are more competitive. The 06 emphasizes camaraderie and community, not winning. Absolutely everyone is welcome – we’ve got players from their teens into their sixties, and players who’ve played as high as Russia’s KHL pro league to ones who’ve only played pick-up before. Further proof of the league’s welcoming spirit is the fact that a number of female players are signed up.”
Games are played on a surface less than regulation size, and so a 3-on-3 format is used rather than the standard 5-on-5 (excluding goaltenders). Teams are about 50/50 foreign and local. New sign-ups are asked to play in demonstration pick-up sessions before each season starts, to gauge their level, with coaches watching. A party is then later staged and a draft held, with skills spread out to ensure parity. “Games are played Sunday evenings, every second week,” says Jensen, “leaving players’ full Sunday daytime free; they also get home early enough to rest for Monday work. All six teams play, and we sell food, beer, and other beverages (Moosehead Breweries is a sponsor) to encourage everyone to stick around and watch each others’ games.”
Jensen also runs an 06 pick-up hockey session every Tuesday evening, open to all comers, first come first serve. It’s played at Frozone, where league games are also currently played. (Note: a new facility closer to central Taipei is expected soon, with multiple O6 leagues planned, divided by skill level).
As with the TGHC, the O6 organizes a variety of extracurricular activities. The usual venue is The Poutinerie, a “snack shack” located on Taipei’s breezy Gongguan Waterfront Plaza (公館水岸廣場), overlooking the Xindian River. Mike and Alex are co-owners. Activities include the aforementioned league-draft parties, live-band nights, etc. Special inline-hockey tourneys are also organized. Gents members also enjoy a The Poutinerie discount.
Ready to try your hand at the coolest sport played in this hot, hot land? The TGHC and O6 await you with open arms!
Word by Rick Charette
Photos by Taipei Gentlemen’s Hockey Club