It’s a little before noon on a chilly Sunday when a few dozen expats begin showing up at Jamsil Sports Complex for their weekly ritual.
In the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, a rink made for inline skating has played host to a league called Canada Ball Hockey Korea since 2008.
The goaltenders strap on their pads, players pull on their jerseys, some good-natured “chirps” (Canadian for trash talk) are exchanged, the captains deliver their pre-game speeches, and the ball is dropped on another hockey day in Seoul.
Over the next eight hours, more than 110 players on eight teams will show up to play two hours of competitive ball hockey, before kicking back with teammates and friends to watch the day’s remaining games, perhaps while enjoying a cold beverage or two.
Rocky Mountain Tavern Fighting Cocks goaltender Bill Wiederseim stretches to make a glove save on Matt Levasseur of the Dillinger’s Dudes during the 2012 fall season of Canada Ball Hockey Korea at Jamsil Sports Complex. (Andrei Cherwinski)
The volunteer-run league is made up primarily of expats from the hockey-mad nation of Canada, though there is also a large contingent from the United States and a handful from Europe, Korea and elsewhere. For many, this Sunday ritual has become more than just a recreational sports league ― it’s a tightly knit, welcoming community that provides a much-needed taste of home and about as much fun as you care to have on a Sunday afternoon.
The CBHK is gearing up for its 10th season, set to begin on the weekend of Feb. 23-24. This season league organizers are hoping to attract more players than ever before, with a goal of 10 teams and up to 130 players. All skill levels are welcome and experience playing hockey is not required ― several of the league’s current players had never played the sport before joining the CBHK.
While the chance to play competitive, high-tempo ball hockey is a major draw, it’s the social aspects that keep people coming back season after season.
“The people I’ve met through (the CBHK) have made this country feel like home, and kept me here for years longer than I had imagined myself living here,” says Peter Mosca, a 32-year-old English teacher from Vancouver and a CBHK member since the beginning. “It’s like having an extended family full of people I actually like.”
Over the last five years, the league has become more organized thanks to the efforts of its volunteers. Michael Kaufman, a 29-year-old Web programmer from Toronto, is entering his third season in the league and his second as a board member.
“I am always impressed with how well structured this league is,” Kaufman says.
“The CBHK has pretty much everything you would want from a competitive sports league. We have a well-structured website with team and individual players’ stats. We also have an excellent team of refs, goal judges, stat keepers and volunteers who help out all throughout game day when they aren’t playing.”
The spring season’s opening weekend will commence with a rookie evaluation session on the afternoon of Feb. 23, where team captains will have their last chance to gauge the skill levels of all the new players.
Later that evening the captains will conduct a draft, the results of which will be available live at JR Pub, one of the league’s sponsors, in Itaewon.
Players watch as their teams are assembled, and by the end of the evening bonds among teammates will have been forged. The season begins the next day.
While a large number of the league’s players are English teachers in their 20s and 30s, it remains an eclectic group. The league’s oldest member is 52-year-old Jon “Rabs” Rabiroff, a journalist from Long Island, New York.
“The league to me is a lot like a fraternity with hockey sticks,” says Rabiroff.
“In a foreign country, it can be a challenge for some to make friends. When you join the CBHK, you instantly have more than 100 potential buddies. As the oldest player in the league, it is also amazing to me how having ball hockey in common makes it no big deal for me to sit down and have a few beers with a group of guys half my age.”
Canada Ball Hockey Korea 2013 Spring Season begins on the weekend of Feb. 23-24. All new players must attend at least one rookie day before the league draft on the evening of Feb 23.
Fees are 160,000 won before Feb. 1, or 170,000 won after Feb. 1, which covers a 14-week regular season and up to three weeks of playoffs; free beer at the draft party; a season-ending banquet with a buffet, beer and hard liquor; and a team shirt.
Visit www.cbhk.org for more details.
By Matt Flemming
Matt Flemming is a member of CBHK, the can be reached via, email@example.com ― Ed.