The has much to look back on since the ISBHF formation in 1993. A tremendous amount of selfless, dedicated work has been contributed and accomplished by so many of our volunteers over the years. One such amazing example of tireless effort was made by Jean Marie Larochelle of Quebec this past March, when he travelled to North Korea as an ambassador for ISBHF and in the process, linked up with none other than Hayley Wickenheiser on the ice for exhibition matches with the North Korea National Ice Hockey Team.
Myself, I reside in South Korea and have been living here since 2008. And in 2016 I had the opportunity of travelling to North Korea and running its annual international marathon while exploring this incredible, yet largely misunderstood ‘hermit’ nation. It is an amazing country to experience and much more accessible through tourism than many people may realize.
Here is our recent interview with Jean Marie, and the inspiring photos as well. We hope you enjoy it. On behalf of the ISBHF, we thank Jean Marie for bringing our emerging sport to the furthest corner of the world, and the ISBHF encourages others to step up and find your own unique way to give back to the sport that we all love.
CG -> How did you hear about the opportunity, Jean Marie? What was your initial reaction?
JM -> It all started two years ago in a hockey tournament in northern India’s Ladakh region.
I met a gentlemen who was going to North Korea to play hockey against the Korean men’s national team. I contacted “Friendship League,” the organization in charge of the project to tell them that I was really interested to be part of this project. As it turned out, this was very possible beyond the expected paperwork required to enter a regime like North Korea. Incredibly, a few months after contacting the travel agent, I headed to North Korea with a team composed of foreigners. Playing against the Korean National Team was a wake-up call, as we were no match at all for the DPRK team and sadly, lost all of our matches. It was such a wonderful experience that I has already decided to go back to go back to the DPRK, but I wanted to bring something different; something that stood out and asked the North Koreans if they would be interested in organizing a ball hockey camp. The initial response was one of surprise, as North Korea had actually never experienced with this game. However, it took a few months to convince North Korean officials, but with a lot of patience, appropriate persistence, and with the help of the ISBHF, North Korea eventually gave our group the green light for a two day camp which took place this past March, 2018.
CG -> How did you find out about Hayley Wickenheiser going?
JM -> It seemed to come out of nowhere you can well imagine your reaction, when the main organizer then suddenly informed me that of all people, Hayley Wickenheiser would be a part of the trip! Hayley was intending to organize some practices with both of the North Korean national teams; men’s and women’s. Fortunately, I met Hayley at our hotel in Pyeongyang. I was thrilled to meet this Canadian hockey legend and the connection was instantaneous as Hayley, if you ever have the fortune of meeting with her in person, is an incredible human being and very giving of her time and energy people. Sadly however, she could not take part in the ball hockey camp that we were planning since she was just staying in North Korea for just two days.
CG -> In North Korea: where did you travel to meet students? How did they first react to ball hockey?
JM -> It took time to organize, but we finally managed to travel; to a sport-oriented school. They were mostly soccer field for high school students but also a lot of volleyball and field hockey. We met a coach of field hockey whose interest for ball hockey, you could tell, was immediate. The coach then introduced us to a group of girls aged between 14-16 years old. You could tell right away that all of the girls were both curious and intrigued by the sticks and this new sport.
CG -> What was the coach’s reaction? Was there anything unique that stood out to you?
JM -> The teachers and coaches were really receptive about this new sport. After a few explanations we distributed the sticks to the girls and they started right away making passes. Surprisingly, they picked it up really quickly and you could tell right away that there were having a great time and were utilizing a similar skill set that they had learned from field hockey.
CG -> What commitment did North Korea make to continuing a program?
JM -> After this minicamp, we were extremely pleased to received confirmation that the North Korean coaches committed to organize a week-long camp in March, 2019!
CG -> What was your overall impression of North Korea? How do you feel about returning next year Jean Marie?
JM -> After two days of practices and games, I could not believe my eyes as to how well these girls were playing! It was unforgettable. As well, I couldn’t believe that I was in North Korea, especially for those two days. They were all laughing, having fun and playing quality team ball hockey. It was incredible and personally speaking, I can’t wait to go back for the 2019 ball hockey camp and taking our development there to the next level! It’s still not certain, but with the changes in tone from North Korea recently, we may see North Korea compete in a World Championship down the road!