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Ball hockey cup brings Korean, Hong Kong expatriates together

“This is our worst nightmare,” said Jeff Gray, Canada Ball Hockey Korea’s tournament director, as the rain poured down Saturday afternoon.

Jeff had to cancel the playoff portion of the CBHK’s International Kimchi Cup as the rain made the surface of the outdoor inline rink at Songpa Multi-Sports Complex in Ogeum virtually unplayable.

Despite the inclement weather, the tournament proved to be a huge cultural success among the expat community. The 6-team CBHK-hosted tournament drew together expats not only from its league base, from which three teams entered, but also two teams from Seoul’s expat population.

The CBHK All-Stars, the Seoul Snakes and the Happy Pylons were league representatives while BIS CANADA, an International School in Bundang, and the Rocky Mountain Tavern, a Canadian bar & grill in Itaewon, entered teams.

“The tournament has been great,” said Corey Nelson of RMT. “I’m reconnecting with people I haven’t seen in ages.”

But what made this tournament culturally special was the participation of the 6th team, the Hong Kong Islanders. The Islanders were making good on a promise to field a team after the CBHK sent a squad to its tournament last May. 
Sean Doran (left) and Daniel Connolly battle for position as they prepare for the Kimchi Cup. (Colin Gennoe)
Sean Doran (left) and Daniel Connolly battle for position as they prepare for the Kimchi Cup. (Colin Gennoe)

Hong Kong team organizer John Harper was in awe of the 8-team, 120-member CBHK and how it has established ball hockey in the culture of Korea’s expat community. “We’ve been to many ball hockey tournaments around the world,” explained Harper on-stage at the post-game banquet at Big Rock Brewery in Gangnam, “but this league, this tournament and this community of expats is truly world class.”

Both the Hong Kong Islanders and the CBHK All-Stars were early favorites to win the tournament. The Islanders had defeated the CBHK Korean Kanucks in the finals at their tournament last spring but the All-Stars had groomed a team of elite players to defend its Kimchi Cup. The tournament, however, was surprisingly competitive from all teams.

The All-Stars defeated the Islanders 4-1 during round-robin play and seemed destined to rank ahead of the Islanders at the top of the standings. But it was the Seoul Snakes, essentially the CBHK “B” Team, who knocked off the All-Stars in dramatic fashion. With the Snakes’ win, the Islanders finished at the top of the standings.

“We’d like to thank the Seoul Snakes,” Jeff Wall Captain from Hong Kong joked as he held up a glass toasting the Snakes at the banquet, “without them, this wouldn’t be possible.”

But the tournament was about much more than just wins and losses. It was about bringing people together, explained Colin Gennoe, CBHK Board Chairman.

“It’s these types of events that help expats expand their social networks which benefit both the expat and Korean communities,” he said.

Perhaps one of the biggest potential boons of the tournament is that a connection has been created to develop grassroots hockey. Some of the players from Hong Kong have successfully organized hockey development programs in China to teach youngsters about the game.

Teachers at BIS Canada had been trying to establish a similar grassroots hockey program here in Korea and the tournament provided them the perfect opportunity to discuss how to take their project to the next level.

“I got them to exchange business cards and ideas,” explained Gray. “Both sides seemed optimistic that hockey can flourish among the Korean population.”

Plans are already in motion to host the CBHK domestic tournament in the spring, in which teams from Busan and Daegu have typically participated. Moreover, the CBHK plans to represent Korea abroad as it prepares to send a team to the 2011 World Ball Hockey Championships in Prague.

“We’ve come a long way,” CBHK Board Executive and tournament MVP Rob Gibson stated. “I’m not sure what my expat experience would be like without this great community of guys. We rally together for all of our initiatives and this tournament has been the latest and greatest one.” 

By Andrew R. Maio

Andrew R. Maio is a practical English professor at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies. He can be reached at Ed.

(Contributing writer)