B.C. hockey coach brings Canada's national pastime to Mongolia
Published Saturday, December 12, 2015 8:02PM EST Last Updated Saturday, December 12, 2015 8:21PM EST
Mongolia isn't exactly a hockey hotbed.
The landlocked country sandwiched between China and Russia is home to only 13 rinks – all of them outdoors – and just 653 registered hockey players.
But for hockey coach Nathan Leslie, making a more than 8,000-kilometre journey to share his country's national pastime was part of satisfying a life's ambition.
"This is exactly fulfilling a dream I had of connecting with coaches and hockey enthusiast around the world," he told CTV Vancouver.
Leslie coaches hockey at the Britannia Hockey Academy in Vancouver. He previously played Junior-A hockey in his youth, and had a few stints in Switzerland's National League before he retired and became a coach.
Earlier this year, Leslie decided to venture to Mongolia with his brother and a small film crew, to spread his love of the game.
Mongolia couldn't afford to bring over Leslie and his crew, so the Canadians took it upon themselves to raise the $22,000 necessary to make the trip.
After securing the funds, the group finally made it to the Asian country in February, bringing with them 10 bags full of hockey gear, including over 50 pairs of skates.
Starting in the capital of Ulaanbaatar, the group visited seven of the country's rinks, making their way north, to just 80 kilometres from the Russian border.
Despite the frigid temperatures, Leslie and his crew received a warm welcome.
Leslie said the nomadic Mongolian people would sometimes arrive on horseback to watch practices and bring them lunch.
"We had a group one day wait five hours in -25C to -29C weather, hoping that we would show up and get on the ice," he said.
Leslie said he was impressed by his pupils' determination to learn the sport.
"They're tough. They're resilient. They're as passionate as we are," he said.
Thanks to the success of the trip, Leslie has plans to spread his love for the game in other countries where hockey is on the margins of the collective consciousness. Next on the docket are China and New Zealand– two countries that have just over 2,500 registered hockey players combined.
"Hockey is the vehicle that has been able to take us around the world, and (I) just cherish that and enjoy it," he said.
With files from CTV Vancouver