In the sports world, Jamaica is known for their sprinters. Most of their Olympic medals have come from the sport, and they have produced legendary names such as Usain Bolt, Elaine Thompson-Herah, among many others. Jamaica isn’t a one-trick pony in sports, however. Despite it being an island nation in the Caribbean, where the average weather in January is 30 degrees Celsius, they have worked on many other sports. Some of the more unlikely sports are winter sports such as bobsledding and another being ice hockey.
The history of ice hockey in Jamaica begins a long time ago, however, some of the biggest steps towards building the sport came just over 10 years ago by a father and son duo named Edmond R. Phillips and Edmond (EJ) Phillips. EJ Phillips proposed a pitch to the Jamaican Olympic committee to officially add ice hockey as an official sport, and soon after, the island joined the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) on May 18, 2012.
Jamaica would have to start at rock bottom in just growing the game. They had barely any resources for ice hockey on the island, and not many locals knew or cared about how to play the game. Their only weapon in growing the sport was Jamaican pride. “Jamaicans are proud people,” said Teegan Moore, Jamaican hockey player and Player Representative. “It doesn’t matter if we are at home, or in another country. Once we have the chance to represent our flag, Jamaicans will join in.”
Although it was a slow start at first, Jamaica had their first opportunity to play as a team in the LATAM Cup. They would play against other nations found within the Caribbean, South and Central America. In their first tournament in 2019, they got players with Jamaican heritage from the United States, Canada, and even Great Britain. They had great success during the tournament, where they found themselves in the finals against Colombia, a nation that joined the IIHF later that year.
After a 2-2 game, it had to be solved in a shootout. Moore took a shot on goal, where he backhanded it into the net, which allowed Jamaica to win their first tournament ever. “It a humbling experience,” he said. “Once in a lifetime moment that I will always be thankful for.”
Jamaican media took notice of the win and even sent their news reporters to cover the game. Many Jamaicans would have been introduced to the sport in that game, as even the reporters kept mixing up calling the puck a ball. However, at the end, when Moore tallied that goal, understanding the game became easy. They won; Jamaica won an ice hockey tournament, and they were proud of their fellow Jamaicans for winning a tournament that would almost seem impossible to start.
This wasn’t the end of Jamaica. Even with COVID-19 interrupting the 2020 LATAM cup, they were only just getting started. Their next goal was an ambitious one, the 2026 Winter Olympics.
There were many challenges ahead of them. They had to teach interested kids how to play the sport and find a way to introduce and market the game. Furthermore, they had to find a way to build an arena on the island and field an ice hockey team in international competition.
The Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation (JOIHF) had plans as of this year; they started to hold introductory courses in Jamaica to teach the game. Moore noted that women of all ages found a lot of interest in the sport right away, and with these courses, they felt more confident that a Women’s National Team could be soon be fielded.
They also helped introduce ball hockey into school curriculums. Ball hockey has been used by other nations and cities that don’t have easy access to rinks to introduce the sport. The Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League helped add the sport into gym curriculums all around their city.
With a hockey rink, nothing is set in stone, however, there has been some optimism from the JOIHF. Other than that, they are looking ahead to the future. Moore didn’t go into specifics regarding Jamaica’s plans, wanting to keep it a secret, but did provide some information. “In 2022, we want to face stronger IIHF members to understand what we need to do,” he said. “Other than that, all I can say is we have surprises coming.”
There may be people that say Jamaica can’t be an ice hockey nation, but they also weren’t supposed to be a bobsledding nation. Whatever happens in the future, Jamaica is looking to do what many critics consider to be the impossible.