British Columbia

Hockey doc on Canadian brothers' trip to teach sport in Mongolia premieres Monday night

A love of playing and teaching ice hockey has taken Nate Leslie and his brother Boe around world.

'It's so pure, it's almost like going back 80 or 90 years in Canada'

A local herdsman has the best and only seat in the house for a game of pick-up hockey in Zuun Kharaa, Mongolia. (Karin Larsen)

A love of playing and teaching ice hockey has taken Nate Leslie and his brother Boe around world, from Switzerland to New Zealand, England, and across the United States.

But the trip that sticks out most in Nate's mind is the one that's now the subject of a documentary called Rinks of Hope: Project Mongolia.

The film — written and directed by CBC journalist Karin Larsen — premieres tonight at a sold out Vancity Theatre.

Mongolia is not known for hockey.

The Leslie brothers give a hockey tactics clinic through a translator in Zuun Kharaa, Mongolia while a camera crew documents the event. (Karin Larsen)

In fact, the country ranks last among the hockey-playing nations tracked by the International Ice Hockey Federation.

But according to Nate, that's no comment on its players' passion for the game.

"The amazing thing is they will share sticks, they'll share skates, they'll wear skates that are five sizes too big," he said. 

"It's so pure, it's almost like going back 80 or 90 years in Canada."

An invite sent 8000 km

The journey began with an invitation sent by the Mongolian Hockey Federation to Leslie Global Sports, the hockey school founded by the brothers more than a decade ago. 

After raising $20,000 on Kickstarter, Nate and Boe left their respective homes in Vancouver and Washington D.C. in March 2015.

From left to right, Nate Leslie, Puredavaa 'Purjee' Choijiljav and Boe Leslie. Choijiljav invited the brothers to give young Mongolian players the Canadian perspective on hockey. (Karin Larsen)

They arrived with 100 sets of donated hockey equipment, gear sorely needed in a country where hockey infrastructure leaves something to be desired.

Mongolia has just 10 rinks to play on, all outdoor, all naturally frozen. By train, the nearest equipment supplier is more than four days and a country away.

Still, Nate estimates there are at least 700 Mongolian children playing the sport, many as passionate as any young Canadian NHL hopeful.

"They were running from their homes to come down to the rink to watch and participate and ask questions and hold your skates and touch your stick," said the 38-year-old.

The on-ice passion was obvious, and despite the small player pool, the communities they visited showed just as much enthusiasm.

Mongolian hockey towns

"Any time we went anywhere the whole village seemed to show up to support us and to watch their kids," said Nate.

"Even the mayors of the town and the president of Mongolia one day."

The Leslie brothers were expecting their hockey camp in Bugant, Mongolia to draw around 25 players. More than four times that amount showed up. (Karin Larsen)

In less than a week spent in the country, Nate and Boe taught more than three hundred players and coaches.

With just one translator available, the pair found other ways to educate the young players.

"Lots of hand signals, don't be afraid to make yourself look silly, lots of physical demonstrations," Nate said of their teaching method.

Speaking of the experience almost a year after his return, Nate reflected on the impact he and his brother left.

"We impressed upon them the ability to break skills down and learn them then apply them to the game, that's always the lasting impression we try to leave in groups."

All the same,

"I think they left more of an impression on us," Nate said.

With files from Karin Larsen


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