Photo by Chung Chow
Hockey has long been a uniting force for Canadians, and, increasingly, a vehicle linking us to the world.
In late 2014, a coach in Mongolia discovered Nate Leslie's online course for minor hockey coaches and sent him an email. That was the start of a friendship that initially saw Leslie and his brother Boe launch a campaign asking $25 from each donor to travel to the East Asia country with 15 bags of gear and coach in the capital city and small villages around the country.
The relationship has continued to grow, and led recently to Project Mongolia—a campaign to further grow the game in a country know for its vast, rugged expanses and nomadic culture.
In took just eight hours to fill a 20-foot shipping container full of hockey equipment bound for Mongolia, where Leslie and a team of colleagues will return in late February to rather balmy -30 Celsius conditions. All the equipment was donated through a fundraiser that swept across the province, with the Richmond Olympic Oval's Justine Cheng offering to make the oval a drop-off spot.
"I used my email database of 5,000 hockey families in BC and 3,000 social media followers to help spread the word and people jumped on board," explains Leslie.
"Steve Basadur, the trade commissioner at the Canadian embassy in Mongolia, asked if I would help gather gear, and he found three Canadian companies to sponsor the fees for shipping the container."
Leslie Global Sports was launched in 2004 following Leslie's seven-year pro hockey career. It's start was rather auspicious.
"I offered one private lesson in Central Park in New York City in hopes that I could share my knowledge of the game and my enjoyment of working with kids," he explains. "I had no idea it would grow into the business it is today with 1,300 kids in summer camps, 1,000 other kids we work with throughout the year, and the hundreds of coaches we have tried to help in Canada, USA, New Zealand and Mongolia."
After returning briefly to Mongolia, Team Leslie will be going down under to New Zealand in April for its annual camp and player exchange program. Leslie is equally excited about a new extended partnership with the Richmond Olympic Oval in which his team will provide on-ice coaches for all oval programs. He'll also be heading up one of Canada's premier development camps again this summer on Vancouver Island, attracting players and coaches from around the world.
Leslie is also proud to be offering an life-after-hockey program and online course for all those athletes transitioning from high performance.
"Hockey has taken my entire family (parents, brother and me) around the world from the age of nine, (and there is) no sign of letting up," he says. "Nearly 40 countries, from Mongolia to the Swiss national league to NYC's Harlem and Central Park. Hockey has been an incredible vehicle for growth, adventure and community both locally and globally."
The Mongolian experience is particularly unique. Leslie says there are about 700 kids playing hockey in the entire country.
"Considering that two or three friends will likely each share a pair of skates, we may have doubled or tripled the number of kids playing with one day's effort when we collected 500 pairs of skates," he says.
Leslie likens hockey's potential impact on a global scale, to the book "How Soccer Explains Everything."
"Culture influences hockey, and hockey influences culture. While it can be an elitist sport, it can also be a backyard sport giving kids, adults families and entire nations something to rally behind."
Now with his hockey sojourn sorted out, Leslie has an even higher priority to focus on—ensuring his four- and five-year-olds to school on time.