Jamaican hockey team: Dreaming of Olympics

Graeme Townshend, seen in NHL playing days, is holding tryouts for a Jamaican hockey team.
Graeme Townshend, seen in NHL playing days, is holding tryouts for a Jamaican hockey team.

Graeme Townshend, the first Jamaican-born player in the NHL and a former skating coach for the Maple Leafs, hopes to help Jamaica field an Olympic hockey team in the next eight to 20 years.

A talent identification camp this weekend in Toronto is the first step to the Olympics for a country with no rinks.

“If we can pull this off, you’re looking at an inspiring story and the idea that anything is accomplishable if you put your mind to it,” Townshend said.

He said that if Jamaica can get a team in the world championships or the Olympics, that’s like a miracle. “It’s something that’s so outlandish that I think it actually might work.”

Townshend will put prospects through their paces on Saturday and Sunday at a talent identification camp at Westwood Arenas in Etobicoke. At least 30 players, from as far away as Sweden, Alberta and Virginia, are expected at the tryouts.

This would mark the second time Jamaica has taken a stab at participating at a major level in a winter sport. In 1966 the Caribbean nation made Olympic history with their national bobsled team, competing at the Calgary Olympics and spawning a hit movie, Cool Runnings, which told the unlikely story of the team’s creation in a country without winter weather. The team last competed in the winter Olympics of 2014.

Anyone who can trace his heritage to the Caribbean is invited to try out for the hockey team.

Townshend said the immediate goal is a team to tour next summer, playing exhibition games, to increase awareness of Jamaica’s plan to enter the Olympics and to attract sponsorship money. The eventual Olympic team must be composed of Jamaican citizens.

Jamaica was the first Caribbean nation to join the International Ice Hockey Federation when it was granted associate member status in 2012. To get full status and be eligible for the Olympics, the country must have a rink and a development program. Jamaica has neither.

Townshend said he will travel to Jamaica next month to begin the process of developing an ice skating facility.