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Welcome to hockey night . . . in Cambodia!

VANCOUVER — It was Hockey Night in Canada’s Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. And it was Hockey Morning in Cambodia.
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo (1) makes a save on Boston Bruins center David Krejci (46) during the first period of Game 2 of the NHL Stanley Cup hockey playoff game in Vancouver, British Columbia, June 4, 2011. Photograph by: Andy Clark, Reuters
By mid-afternoon in downtown Vancouver, an estimated 70,000 hockey-mad fans were gathering to cheer on the Canucks.
At
the same time in Cambodia, it was a little after sunrise when about 30
hockey-crazy boys, girls and their dads clustered around a computer
screen in the community centre in Proyouth. The village is on the
outskirts of Siem Reap, the closest city to the spectacular 12th-century
Khmer temple, Angkor Wat.
At 4:30 p.m. Vancouver time via Skype,
Brian McConaghy and his two Cambodian-born sons made contact with Reaksa
Himm in Cambodia before setting their laptop up in front of the
big-screen TV in their Richmond, B.C. living room.
As Mark Donnelly and 18,000 fans in Rogers Arena belted out O Canada, the Cambodian children sang their own national anthem.
They
didn’t get to see the whole game. Because of a problematic Internet
connection, they missed Alex Burrows scoring the winning goal just 11
seconds into overtime.
But Himm said the children and their fathers were amazed at just how fast the game is when it’s played on ice.
Until January, none of them even knew what hockey was. But Himm changed all that.
“I am too crazy about the Vancouver team,” Himm tells me in an email, adding that he’s convinced the Canucks will win the Cup.
A
Canadian who recently moved back to his birthplace, Himm brought hockey
to the village and to a country where 37 per cent of the population is
under 15.
He did it with the help of McConaghy’s Ratanak International, a non-profit that funds child-focused programs in Cambodia.
Himm
has already built a school in Proyouth and the community centre. With
Ratanak’s help, the library will be completed by late fall.
“When I
built the community centre, I thought about having basketball,
volleyball, badminton and captain ball games,” he says. “But early this
year, when I returned back from Toronto, I thought about bringing hockey
into the community centre.”
In December, he contacted Ratanak staffers Beth Davis-Lauer and her husband, Stephan Lauer.
Could you bring hockey sticks when you come in January?
It was an odd request from a tropical country where 20 C is considered cool.
But
Stephan called Ron Smith — yes, the same Ron Smith who was assistant
coach when the Canucks made Stanley Cup runs in 1992 and ‘94. Smith had
been on the board of another non-profit the Lauers had worked for.
Smith
connected them to his son, Devon, who works with the NHL Players
Association. In January, the Lauers delivered what Devon had given them —
24 top-of-the-line sticks with Sidney Crosby’s name on them, two sets
of NHLPA jerseys in different colours and lots of balls.
Meanwhile,
Himm had built an arena with a cement floor, boards and even hockey
nets. He and the whole village were practically hopping up and down with
excitement when the Lauers arrived.
“It was chaos,” Beth said in a
telephone interview from their home in Ontario. “Everybody was picking
up sticks and balls. There were too many men and boys and girls on the
ice. I was refereeing. It was crazy and it got really rough because
nobody knew what to do with the sticks. . . .
“The next day we went to the market and bought eye protection for everybody. But it was an absolute blast!”
There
are now two organized teams of 15 boys aged eight to 10 and two
15-member teams of 11- to 15-year-old boys. Even in the heat with the
sun beating down on their arena, they wear the NHLPA jerseys.
From
3 p.m., if there is no rain, many boys begin to pour in for the game
that lasts until 5 p.m., says Himm. “From 5 until 6:30, we have many
adult players.
“You know what? I am one of the players too. I
love the game . . . We make our own rules. We do have the same line and
net, but different rules.”
Learning the rules is part of the reason the Cambodians are keen to watch the Stanley Cup Final.
But
it’s mainly because even though they don’t really understand hockey,
they’ve been infected with Himm’s passion for the Canadian game.
One recent afternoon, more than 100 boys and girls showed up to play in the little village arena.
Sadly, most could only be spectators. Because in all of Cambodia, there are only 24 hockey sticks and 24 jerseys.
Vancouver Sun
dbramham@vancouversun.com
Categories: Sport News
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