Hockey Night in Thailand
Flying Farang Team 1999
Bangkok = hockey. Sure. And next we’ll be dog sledding and building igloos on Sukhumvit, right? For a number of hardy ex-pats the above equation is a reality. Every Wednesday night, the Flying Farangs discard their PCs and leave the worries of the business world behind them as they grab their sticks and skates, head to the Central World Plaza (née the World Trade Centre) and lace up their blades to compete with some of Thailand’s best players.
Flying Farang Todd Gilmore mounts the attack against the Hong Kong Selects
Most foreigners can’t believe it when they first hear that they can play hockey in Thailand. Very few have equipment. It’s usually not on their must-bring list when they are packing to come to Asia. As a result, these ex-pats are sent scrambling for protective gear once they learn that they can play the world’s fastest game in Bangkok. Luckily, one of the Thai players, Sakchai “Jeab” Chinanuvatana, manages a pro shop in the rink, and is able to supply many of the players with their equipment needs.
Canadian Craig O’Brien founded the Farangs. A mechanical engineer by trade, he has since returned to Canada, but when he first hit Don Muang’s tarmac, instead of heading to the usual tourist haunts, he set off in search of an ice rink. He lived for the game, and his zeal rubbed off on his teammates, many of whom were never to have taken the game so seriously in their lives. From petroleum engineers to investment consultants, teachers, journalists, deep-sea divers, stamp collectors and hotel executives … the professions of the players run the gamut. But, for a few hours every week, they can pretend to be Mario Lemieux all over again, and have fun doing it.
The players themselves are a diverse mix, coming from places as far afield as Helsinki, Philadelphia, Edmonton and Tokyo. But the bulk of the foreigners come from — yeah, you guessed it, eh? — Canada. You remember the old adage, “You can take a Canadian male out of a hockey rink, but you can never take the hockey rink out of a Canadian male.” Well, it’s true.
The Farangs annually host an international hockey tournament in late October or early November. Teams have come from as far away as Russia, Canada and the Czech Republic, but the regulars are Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taipei, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo. Thailand is represented by the Flying Farangs and Thai teams such as Canstar, the Grizzly Bears and the Rockets. What’s raised from the tourney, after expenses, goes to help Father Joe Maier and his Human Development Center in Klong Toey.
One of Thailand’s best players is Vanchalerm “Top” Rattapong. He has the skills and instincts of a great player, yet he has never skated outside of Thailand. Top works for a local modeling agency, and his good looks and stylish appearance have many calling him the “Jaromir Jagr of Thai ice hockey”.
Although the game, with its many rules and infractions, can be difficult to understand, the support base for the sport is growing here in Bangkok. Unfortunately, since hockey equipment is expensive, only the children of rich or middle-class Thai families can afford to play. With the increasing popularity of the sport, however, it’s hoped that more and more Thai kids will become interested in the game, and more ways will be found to subsidize equipment purchases.
The Farangs have faced quite an odyssey since 1995, when they first laced up their blades at the Mall IV rink, across from Ramkamhaeng University. That rink was shut down in 1997 and turned into a cineplex. Then the team moved out to the Imperial Samrong, where the Farangs stayed until 2001, when that rink also closed. The team then shifted base again and ended up at the much smaller Imperial Lat Phrao (now the Big C Lat Phrao), a rink about half the size of a normal facility. During that period, the Farangs staged their international tournaments at the full-size Kad Suan Kaew complex in Chiang Mai. But, in late March of this year, the Farangs were finally given permission to skate at the Central World Plaza, a rink they have coveted for a decade. The old rink manager had an aversion to ice hockey, so they never got in the door. But when the Central Group recently took over management of the shopping centre, they agreed to give the Farangs a chance.
The Farangs also used to compete in the Bangkok Hockey League, which ran for two years (1999-2000) and featured teams like the Polar Bears, a squad filled with ferocious Thai females. The league came to a halt when Samrong was shut down, but the Farangs are hoping to re-start it, now that they’re playing in Central World Plaza.
The player with the highest profile ever to play against the Farangs was probably Neal Broten, who brought a team over from the USA a couple of years ago to compete in the Chiang Mai tourney. After being part of the famous gold-medal “Miracle on Ice” squad in Lake Placid back in 1980, Broten suited up for one game short of 1,100 in the NHL, playing 17 NHL seasons. He popped in 289 goals and had 634 assists for 923 points. He won a Stanley Cup with the New Jersey Devils, captained the Minnesota North Stars, and his sweater is the only one the Dallas Stars have ever retired. On top of all that, he’s a nice guy; he even carries his own equipment bag.
The Farangs have also laid claim to having had the most beautiful Zamboni driver. A couple of years ago in Chiang Mai, Khun Tu, the rink manager there, also drove the arena’s resurfacing machine. But when she drove the Zamboni, she dressed to the nines, with evening gowns, high heels and even an occasional tiara. Some people — Neal Broten loved her — came to the games just to see her resurface the ice. There was one occasion when 6’6” Farang Bjorn Turmann high-fived her as she took the turn on the corner boards. This immediately caught on, and lovely Khun Tu drove the length of the boards high-fiving Farangs, spectators and opposition players — quite a moment in sporting history.
So it seems that the cry: “He shoots! He scores!” will not be restricted to the rinks of Europe and North America anymore, and the Farangs will continue to play a major part in spreading the gospel of ice hockey across Southeast Asia. Who knows, maybe in 20 years teams from Hanoi, Saigon, Phnom Penh, Vientiane, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Manila and Rangoon will be playing in a Southeast Asian Hockey League
For further information on the Flying Farangs contact Kevin Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org); or Scott Murray (email@example.com).
Flying Farang Team 1998
Peter Suozzo, an ex-Flying Farang, and now a financial analyst with Citicorp in New York City : “It’s an amazing collection of players from all over the world (far different from the white-bread teams I’m used to): quick and tough Canadians, body-pounding beer-drinking ex-Czech army types, talented Finns with amazing skating skills and a bag of stickhandling tricks, combined with the lightweight but fleet-footed and indefatigable Thais. I doubt I’ll ever play with such a group again — a veritable United Nations of hockey.
“Playing in such an odd environment far from home makes for a lot of camaraderie and a much more fun experience. But, in spite of its being fun, the hockey at times reaches a very high level of intensity and skill. There’s nothing quite like it, and hockey will never be quite as enjoyable anywhere else.”
Shaun Chapman, computer animator, and a power forward with the Farangs: “For me, it’s about playing a game I enjoy. I think most people have a passion for a particular sport if they have played it before, especially if they played it when they were kids. I started to play organized hockey at the age of six, so I guess it’s a part of me. The ‘being a kid again’ aspect of the game might be part of the allure as well. It’s an escapist activity where the only things that are on your mind are playing the game, making a good pass, beating someone to the puck, scoring a goal, winning the game, congratulating a teammate, and the roar of the crowd (although that is in my head, of course). It sort of brings back the fun of youth.”
Jason Cotsmire, the Flying Farang goalie, a half-Thai, half-American copy-writer who works for a major advertising agency in Bangkok, describes why he still plays hockey : “When I was introduced to the Flying Farangs, it was truly a blessing. To still be able to play the sport you love, in a city where you never would have imagined it possible, is something to cherish. I truly look forward to the weekly games, and have found a new fire in my belly for the sport. I enjoy playing hockey in Bangkok for the friends I have made. Many of the people I have met through hockey, both farang and Thai, are not people I would have met otherwise. The camaraderie from a beautiful goal or a brilliant save is just as relevant now as when we were kids.
“I also enjoy the fact that, through hockey, we have been able to make a difference in society. On one level, we have raised the level of play of the Thai kids, challenging them to become better. The commitment of many of the Farangs to the growth of the sport is just amazing, I have caught that bug, and have been helping out some of the kids. On another level, we have raised money for charity through our annual tournament. Nothing beats being able to do some good for others while playing hockey.”
Scott Murray and fellow Flying Farangs handing over proceeds from the OK Cup to Father Joe Maier and his Human Development Centre.
Paul Davidson, a technical specialist with Seagate Technology : “Hockey players tend to be a unique breed, in that they possess a passion and dedication to their sport like no other athlete. Growing up with the sport being a part of your culture, you tend to take things for granted, and lose sight of the fact that as great a sport as hockey is, it is still very much regional. Having the privilege of playing hockey in Thailand has been a wonderful experience for me. The first thought one has upon realizing that they have the opportunity to play hockey in Thailand is amazement. Then the thoughts begin as to what the experience will entail. Certainly the rink size must be too small to accommodate regulation play and, of course, the ice quality probably does not hold up much past 30 minutes of play. The thought of Thai nationals participating and competing right next to you seems ridiculous.
“I became even more amazed the first time I participated in the weekly Flying Farang practice session. Not only was the ice surface regulation and the ice quality as good as some that I participate on in North America, but there were Thai nationals playing at a very competitive level. Each time I travel to Thailand, one of the very things I look forward to is being able to participate in the sport that I love and to associate with all of the great individuals that I have met and became friends with through this great opportunity. It is a great experience to have this one common bond with numerous individuals from many cultures.”
Ryan Haynes, a guidance counsellor at Ruam Rudee International school : “Every time I step on the ice at the mall rink, and I look up and around me and see mall patrons watching us, I am amazed. I think to myself, ‘I’m playing ice hockey in Thailand; this is so cool! I then laugh to myself and start skating.’”
Chris Gowland, an Australian working in Bangkok teaching English, says he had never even skated, let alone played hockey, before he came to Bangkok . “The game is fun, there’s nothing like it, I also enjoy the camaraderie, and, since I haven’t played before, my potential for improvement is unlimited.”
Ben Dolgin-Gardner, vice-president of Spacely Sprockets : “The time I spend playing hockey here in Bangkok gives me the opportunity to get back to reality within a surreal environment. It’s like I have a community of people I can relate to and communicate with without having any language barriers.”
Nathan D. Noble, International Affairs Officer, Barn Pan Engineering and Holding Co. Ltd. : “Hockey in Bangkok is the fastest ride home that 350 baht can buy. It takes you home in an instant, surrounded by fellow Westerners, playing a Western game, in Western weather. The second you lace up the blades, you forget that you are in the centre of Southeast Asia’s largest city; a hot, congested, densely populated, dirty, polluted, paradise of a city. You land back in Canada, Europe or, for me, back in the great Midwest of the United States. For that hour and a half, all my thoughts are consumed by hockey and I am safe at home again.”
Scott Murray's sweater on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto, Canada
Flying Farangs - Home Page
Bangkok Post Article - February 28 2001