How to Play Ice Hockey in Thailand – Learn Josh’s story and how he became a player & coach in Chiang Mai

Where did you grow up?

I was born and raised in Reading, Pennsylvania about an hour outside of Philadelphia (USA).   I spent my entire childhood there, same house, didn’t leave until University. 

How Did You First Fall in Love with Playing Hockey?

I don’t even have memories that date back that far.  I had two good buddies, older brother figures in my neighborhood that were huge into hockey and played for the local ice hockey team.  I saw them playing street hockey a lot outside my house.  My parents told me that when they broke their sticks in games they would cut them down so I could play with them, as little as 3 year old.  My parents were big hockey fans; my dad was a huge Philadelphia Flyers fan, dating back to when they were the Broad Street Bullies in the 1970’s.  He eventually got my mom into hockey by watching it on TV and going to games.  I would watch Flyers games with them as a kid and it got to a point where my mom asked if I wanted to try ice hockey.  My earliest experiences playing hockey were in the street.  Eventually she got me on skates and it hasn’t ever stopped.

Josh’s Timeline of Hockey Playing Experiences

The street hockey and early experiences were from ages 3-5.  My first experience on the ice was when I was 6.   My little brother and I started at the same time, I was 6 and he was 3.   I was getting on the ice once or twice a week, learning how to skate and stick handling with the puck.  After a year or two of that I joined an in house league, a local league that is not too serious, for kids that wanted to get some game action.  I played for that in house league for about two years. Then I started to play for our local travel team, which is for kids who are getting more serious.   I started as a first year squirt, which is around 10 years old.  That travel team became the foundation of my serious hockey career.  I played for the same travel organization from when I was 10, all the way up to 17 years old.  It was a junior program associated with a local professional team.  In my hometown we have the Reading Royals, who were originally affiliated with the Los Angeles Kings as one of their farm system teams.   They sponsored the local team so we were the Reading Junior Royals.  Luckily when I was in middle school hockey became large enough in my hometown that we were able to create a school-based league as well.  At the peak of my of my hockey playing experience as a child, I was playing simultaneously for the Redding Junior Royals which traveled the tri-state area – Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and also playing for my local school, in the public league.  I was on the ice in my peak 5-7 days a week, depending on games because we would practice 3 times a week.

Once I graduated High School my initial university experience was at Temple in Philadelphia.  I tried out for the team there and it was just bad timing.  The year that I went there was the best year that they ever had, they only took two freshmen that year, both kids were studs and definitely deserved to make it over me.  I don’t have any hard feelings about not making the team because I was not good enough to play for them at that time.  They had a really stellar team.  However, that led to the only break in my hockey experience because I focused a lot on school, got involved in other things like weight lifting and started really enjoying the college experience.    It was the fist time in my life that I didn’t have an extra curricular that I was glued on to supplement my school experience so it was nice.  My entire time at Temple University, I did not play hockey at all.  In the summer I would play local pick up games with my buddies but really had an extended time off the ice. 

I didn’t get back into hockey seriously until I was a grad student at Kutztown University.  I was already teaching full time at that point but I ended up playing two years at the college level as a grad student.  I had taken such a long break from competitive hockey it got a point where I didn’t miss it a whole lot.  I was still in the game by following my professional teams and I have this love for hockey that will never go away.  I accepted the fact that my competitive years were over.  My brother who is 3 years younger than I am was playing hockey at Kutztown University.  I was looking to go back to school to get an additional master degree in education because I was working towards a principal certification.  One of my youth coaches took the head coaching position at the university so it was kind of the perfect storm of things where I thought maybe I give it a go again.

College Hockey Experiences

I definitely have very fond memories of that time and that was the foundation for me getting into sports management.  I ended up becoming the president of our team, effectively like the general manger, did everything from scheduling our games, organizing officials for our homes games, setting up transportation and uniform orders which is a lot things that I am doing with my current role at the school now. 

How did You Choose to Live in Chiang Mai?

That started when I studied abroad in 2013 as an undergraduate at Temple University.  They had an education program in Rome, Italy that I did for about 2 months over the summer.  That was the foundation for me getting overseas and really when I think about it how I ended up in Chiang Mai.  As far as pushing comfort zones that was a huge influence and why the transition to move abroad became easier later.  That was the beginning of the travel itch and wanting to see the world.  Because I was working as a teacher, I had big chunks of time off in the summer and was always looking for the next potential travel destination.  I had some friends that were living in Thailand and decided give it a go in 2017.  I checked out Bangkok, some beaches and was told Chiang Mai is a must see place while traveling. In Chiang Mai, I really enjoyed the overall atmosphere, I felt very at peace here even though I was only traveling.  While I was here I tried to get a sense of the international school opportunities for teachers.  Because I am a qualified and have an English Language arts degree, I already thought about the possibility of working abroad.  The more I talked to people the more it seemed like someone with the qualifications and credentials that I had was a bit more of a rare commodity than I had anticipated.  It got me thinking that I might be able to find a high quality job working for a school that would pay a little bit more than these programs that I had seen previously, working as an ESL teacher.  Upon returning from that trip I started investigating the international school community.  I love Chiang Mai and I knew that it was a place where I could see myself living.  Eventually I started joining some Facebook groups, putting out feelers and a few months after investigating, I came into contact with a few schools.  Soon as I saw how easy it would be to find a stable position, I quit my job in the States and started making the preparations to move. 

How did You Start Playing Hockey in Chiang Mai?

When I moved out here I didn’t bring any hockey equipment with me. During my first week in Chiang Mai, I was still living in a hotel, looking for a place to live and one of the days I went to the ice rink.  I started asking questions about the hockey community and they said we actually play every Tuesday and to come back later to check it out.  Less than a week into getting here in CM, I’m at the rink and the people there said I think we have enough gear for you to suit up.  Luckily I am similar in size to a lot of Thai people.  Sure enough they decked me out in a full set of gear.  I was playing hockey every week with the used equipment starting from that first week that I got here.  At first it was very casual, playing open hockey every Tuesday and using other peoples equipment.  I had some people coming out here to visit me so in waves I got people to bring me all the stuff.  It was helmets, skates, gloves then my parents came with larger suitcases and brought the rest of my gear.  For the first few months it was just informal pick up games.  That’s sort of how I made a name for myself and got into the hockey community.  I started asking about coaching but it seemed it was really only a Thai coach sort of thing.  I thought maybe it was a work permit issue, things of that nature because they were hesitant.  Ultimately, I got approached my some of the local guys and they asked me to join their team for a tournament.  The first time that I played was in October 2018; I played in a local Chiang Mai tournament for a new team that had just been organized.  Since then I have played in about 4-5 tournaments that are adult leagues, fairly competitive and its non-contact, which is good for me because my body is banged up from the college days.  It’s been a great experience playing.  There have been times when the team we are playing is quite strong and we have done very well.  We have won 2 local championships here and we were runner up for a tournament in Bangkok when I joined forces with a team from Hat Yai.  For me the competitive days are in the past and I really enjoy playing for the love of the game. 

Becoming a Hockey Coach in Chiang Mai

Some of the guys I play with (the team is called the Chiang Mai Jokers) are coaching some kids here.  They coach full team practices to small group lessons to private one on ones.  I started asking them how I could potentially get into coaching here.  I thought that I had a lot to offer the kids; I was blessed with great coaches growing up.  I was really trying to put feelers out there, how can I get involved in this and there was a lot of push back at first.  Ultimately one of my good buddies from the Jokers hockey team asked me to support him while he was doing a one on one lesson because there was some quirky things about a kids skating motion.  He wanted me to look at it and offer some advice.  That was my first experience coaching here.  Then some of the parents of the higher skilled players from a local team who also join the Tuesday night open hockey, saw me play, and approached me.  They asked if I would be interested in doing some of their team practices, coming on as a volunteer so they could get a sense of what I had to offer.  After I joined some team practices and introduced them to some drills that they hadn’t previously done; they asked to make this more of a regular thing. There were also some parents that became interested in their child working with me one on one.  That was at the end of October 2018, I started working with that team and come December was the first time I traveled with the team to a tournament.  Ever since then we have been participating in tournaments in Pattaya, Bangkok a number of times and we have plans to go abroad as well.  It has really become a stable position, being the head coach of the under 14, 15 and 16 age teams.  I also support the Thai coaches who have control of the younger kids, the youth developmental part.  I’m on the ice with the kids for team practices 2-3 times a week and I am also doing private lessons 5 days a week.  Between playing and coaching I am on the ice pretty much everyday.  

Thai Youth Hockey Players Compared to Kids in the States

When I got here to Chiang Mai, I was dumbfounded by the skill of the kids.  I’m talking purely their physical ability.  Their skating was pretty solid, the way that they could stick handle, move the puck, shoot the puck, pass the puck was all well above of what I anticipated, thinking about what hockey would be like in South East Asia.  Give credit to the Ice Hockey Association of Thailand and more specifically to the coaches in Chiang Mai.  They have been able to develop some players with a raw physical skill set that are solid.  When I see the kids play, I do not have concerns about their skating style or any of these physical things.  The big difference I notice between the kids here and the kids of similar ages in the States is the kids in the States know the game.  They know where to be, positioning, patterns of team movement, understanding how to play defense and complementing each other.  They understand how to use their teammates to score goals instead of what I consider superstar hockey.  Before I worked with these kids, I noticed the kids that were really dominating the games were playing superstar hockey. You can give them the puck and they single handily can take over the game.  In any sport if a player is skilled enough they can take over the game, hockey is definitely an example of that.  I think what I have been able to offer most is giving the players a better understating of the game, giving them a hockey IQ.  Here is where you need to be, here are things you need to be thinking about, playing without the puck is really important.  I see a lot of hockey here where the puck is a magnet, not only people going toward it, also people looking at it.  A lot of opportunities in the game are by not looking at the puck and knowing how to get into empty spaces when people are not paying attention to you.  That’s the big thing I have been able to offer them is avoiding the tendency’s to play superstar hockey and having a better a understanding of the game so as a team we can play a lot smarter.  Even if we play kids that are a lot better than us it gives us an opportunity to be more successful.

Philly Hockey Culture
Josh’s Most Influential Coaches Growing Up 

I had two coaches that really stand out to me and both of them played hockey at a high level.  They were guys that really understood the game and gave me of an understanding of hockey that really resonated with me.  I played under a guy named John Turner who played NCAA division I hockey at Merrimack College.  They are in Hockey East which is a powerhouse in the NCAA; we are talking about teams like Boston College, Boston University, and UMass, programs that develop NHL talent.  He played in that environment.  He was a no BS kind of guy, really took the job seriously even though he was coaching us at 12 years old.  He really instilled a work ethic inside us and a passion for the game.   That was my first exposure to a very serious coach.  My number one influence was a guy named Antoine Bergeron, an NHL draft pick by the St. Louis Blues, he played for the Canadian National Team as a junior.  He is a really interesting guy; a French-Canadian and he played for the Reading Royals the professional team in my hometown.  He decided not to leave and came on as the guy who took over our youth hockey program.  I played under him for a 1 and a half and we are talking a guy with endless hockey knowledge.  He played for some of the most brilliant hockey minds that the world has to offer by playing in the Canadian national program.  He got us all sorts of exospore on a regional level, built us into an incredible team; we nearly made it to the USA hockey nationals the year I played for him.  He took us to tournaments in Quebec, Canada where people were not even speaking English and we are viewed as celebrities when we show up because he is our coach and he is a local legend up there.  That was the best experience I ever had when playing hockey at the age of 16 and playing under a coach that was able to connect with us on a personal level.  He was also another no BS type of guy, we are going to work for everything; we are going to earn everything.  I think that experience taught me what it takes to be a winner, when you are playing at that serious of a level.  I will never forget those experiences.  I’ve lost touch with him a bit but he is currently operating a really intense elite junior program in the Harrisburg area of Pennsylvania.  I know for a fact that the work he has put in over the years has gotten kids to a very high level.  I think that if I would have taken my own playing more seriously back in the day with his guidance, I probably could have played at a high level as well but I was more focused on having a good time, being a kid at the time.  I always took it seriously but never to level you would need to get to the promise land.

Do Josh’s Coaching Influences Fit the Thai Hockey Community?

The imparting of the knowledge and developing the kid’s hockey IQ is something that I can definitely pass along.  The Thai kids love the game and they do want to understand the game better.  But that no BS, if you disobey we are going to be punitive, we are going to skate the living crap out of you type of attitude that my coaches had to develop a sense of discipline, I found that to be a bit more difficult to instill here.  My brother and I are both coaching together at this point and we tried to bring that, being punctual and being discipline type of philosophy to our team.  But I think the kids we largely coach are more there to have fun than to become a professional player.  We try to do a certain balance between keeping it fun and keeping it engaging for them.  Doing things that they will enjoy and also try to develop their conditioning and develop their sense of discipline.  There has been a few times where we have dealt with some cultural clashes.  We were told by the parents maybe we are going to hard on them, they don’t want to come to practice, they are being skated too hard.  It’s tough for me to hear those sorts of things because hockey is a grueling, energy draining game, it should be played at high rates of speed and intensity.   That’s not always in line with Thai culture generally; its much more laid-back and chill.  We are working to balance that at times.

Josh’s Goals as a Hockey Coach in Thailand

When I first got here I just looking for opportunities to play, soon as I found out about the youth community and coaching opportunities, I just wanted to coach.  Then as soon as we started playing tournaments and I started to get a sense of what the larger community in Thailand has to offer and how people play the game, by seeing what other coaches are doing and seeing how much people know about hockey here my goals quickly became as high as they could possibly get.  We have a couple kids locally that play at the national level, we had 3 kids make the U15 national team and they participated in the South East Asian Games.  We recently had an additional 3 players make the national team U20 roster.   Because I know these kids and their parents and the hockey community here is pretty small here, I put feelers out there to say if there is ever an opportunity to coach with the national team, let them know I am interested.  Put my name out there if you think I am a good fit.  Interestingly, I got a phone call in November 2019 just before thanksgiving suggesting that ice hockey association of Thailand was looking to move into a different direction and looking for some new people.  They asked if I would be interested to come on as an assistant coach with the U20 national team.  Without a doubt I said yes, no hesitation at all.  Currently, on top of the responsibilities I have here with the local team, I am operating as the assistant coach of the U20 national team.  My sights are even higher than that; I would like to be a head coach in the national team program.  The current program has a men’s national team, which is all ages, a women national team of all ages and a men’s U20 team.   They have a stable head coach who is from Finland, very knowledgeable hockey guy, he has done some camps here and I’ve seen what he has to offer.  In terms of hockey IQ he’s got it, he has played at a very high level and has a lot of international coaching experience.  The guy that I am coaching under has also coached in Malaysia, UAE and Taiwan.  It’s been nice to get an opportunity within Thailand to develop a bit and learn from guys that have a really strong foundation of hockey knowledge.  They don’t come from America so the philosophies they are coaching with are a bit different, which has been really nice.  I am continuing to put in the work locally and nationally to prove to them that I want to be apart of this for a long time.  That’s the ultimate goal for me is to be a head coach at some level within the Thai national program.  I think that they have some really good guys in place now that deserve to be there but if the opportunity would to come that is the ultimate goal for me.

How do You See the Thai Hockey Community Growing?

For short term the Olympic level is pretty unrealistic because the playing field is quite small for the people that are actually going to qualify for the Olympics.  There are a couple limitations, and the biggest limitation is the hockey community here is not large enough.  Nationwide there needs to be more access for kids who are very young.  There is a lot of opportunity and upside to develop a larger pool of players and to give more access to competitive leagues and games.  Another big limitation is access to ice; there are not a whole lot of ice rinks.  If you want to play on a full size, NHL ice rink, you need to go to Bangkok.  The youth development programs and physical infrastructure need to be built up a bit.  I think that there is a lot of upside but it’s going to take time.  The Thai hockey community would benefit to bring some people in from the outside that have a good understanding of the game.  Right now its kind of random chance that’s landing people here, there is a former NHL player that lives in Pattaya, he works with some young kids in Bangkok.  I happened to move here and another gentlemen happened to retire here.  There is a ton of upside though; it will take some time to develop.  What I found with the hockey community here it is a bit of niche but they are also very passionate about the game.  I have seen what type of talent there is throughout South East Asia and I think Thailand can rise to the top of SE Asia in the very near future.  When we broaden that to even Asia, competing against kids from Japan and China who have some legitimate ice facilities, much better developed youth programs and larger pool of players.  It will take time like anything but I think without a doubt there is a lot of potential to compete.  The kids that play at the highest level here are very skilled players and that’s an objective statement from me.  You can put some of the best kids of Thailand at their age group anywhere else on earth; there are some damn good players here.  

Young Thai Hockey Players Future

There is one player right now that I think has a ton of upside potential and he is a student at Prem Tinsulanonda International School here in Chiang Mai.  He is a member of the U15 national team, U20 national team and is currently trying out for the men’s national team; he is 15 years old.  Skill wise he is good enough to play at that high of a level, I’ve seen the men’s national team play, I’ve played against some of these guys and this kid from Chiang Mai is the real deal.  I reached out to his parents and stared asking where does your son see himself going with hockey, how serious does he want to get with hockey.  And with this particular kid he wants to become a doctor, he is really focused on his studies.  He does have aspirations to play at the Thai national level and he is currently doing it.   For him that is the ultimate goal, play at a highest level for his country and his other goals outside of hockey. 

Chiang Mai Hockey Players Potential
Ice Rink Facilities in Thailand

When it comes to a proper rink that is up to NHL standards not only in terms of quality of the ice but the whole package.  I’d say there is one in the whole country and that is where the Thai national team plays at Central Plaza in Rama 9 section of Bangkok.  They have solid conditions for the ice, proper boards with glass, you walk in there and its legit.  There is another sheet of ice in Bangkok that is Olympic size, even larger than an NHL size rink.  They have proper boards but there is no glass.  For getting on a rink that is full size you need to go to Bangkok.  But this doesn’t stop competitive ice hockey from happening, it’s just the expectations for the type of rink you are going to be playing on compared to colder weather countries or countries that have a more vibrant hockey community.  Now that being said, it hasn’t stalled the development of kids at all.  I’ve seen kids from Chiang Mai that can play at a high level in the States.  You thrown them on top tier teams in the States, they can keep up; their skill level is there.  When it comes to a child starting to play hockey, you don’t really need a perfect rink for that to happen.   If you have ice and there are people willing to work with them I think they can achieve some pretty great things.  It’s realistic to adjust what rink standards might be because keeping ice cold in a country like Thailand is very expensive.  All costs aside it is difficult to do, keeping something frozen in this type of environment is no easy feat.  The ice conditions are a bit softer, it’s hard to keep the ice frozen rock solid the way you can in colder climates.  The government level in Thailand is starting to give hockey a lot more recognition; they have approved to build an Olympic sized rink for the teams to train on.  There is a lot going on at the higher levels of Thai government as far as recognition towards hockey, growing a vibrant community, a sport that the country sees itself backing.  I think in the next few years we will see some developments.  I know the local community here in Chiang Mai that has taken over the rink has aspirations to have enough funds to build a freestanding rink, that’s full size.  It’s very expensive to build these facilities here and to maintain them. Nevertheless, I think that’s where things are heading.  I think there is a ton of potential to what this can grow into over the next 10-15 years. 

Chiang Mai’s rink is at Central Festival floor number 3.  The ice is in a lot better condition than when it was under the previous ownership.   Luckily for the hockey community here, the parents of the local team, a group of them became the board of directors that ended up purchasing the rink.  The parents here saw the potential the rink has; they have made some adjustments to how the rink generates revenue.  There is a lot of stability there now, we are really blessed and it has given us a lot more freedom and flexibility to when we can get kids on the ice.  Now, in Chiang Mai you might have the greatest opportunity to regular access at an affordable price because they moved to a membership model.   If you are a member of the rink, you are guaranteed 3 group practices a week and anytime you want you can get on the ice, it’s a come and go as you please situation.  If you want to just go skate for a couple hours, you can virtually get on the ice whenever you want.  It’s a bit expensive by Chiang Mai standards but worldwide hockey is more of an upper echelon sport because the equipment is very expensive, its difficult to maintain rinks and expensive to pay the electric bills to keep the sheet of ice.  Chiang Mai is one of the better places to develop a hockey player right now because of the ease of access and the fact the rink is owned by hockey people instead of people who are looking to generate revenue as entertainment or a night out. 

Advice for People Moving to Chiang Mai
Growing a Passion Project in Chiang Mai
Advice for People Coming to Thailand That Want to be Apart of the Hockey Community

If you are looking to move here to play hockey you have to bring everything with you.  Because once you get here you will have trouble getting access to things that you need whether its equipment or materials and they are considerably more expensive here even if you can get them.  The irony of it is that some of these products are even made here in Bangkok but they are Canadian or American products and you see a big mark up.  Advice for young coaches coming here, I would say focus on relationship building.  Try to genuinely build something that extends further than sport or further than the classroom with kids.  Try to understand that no matter what you get into there is going to be cultural differences, some of those things we touched on earlier such as how hockey is coached, the intensity that is associated with it.  Trying to navigate that in a Thai context where things are more laid back.  There is going to be compromises that need to made in order for it to be a really healthy experience.   Always try to observe and be a good listener, try to step away from what you are doing and get a more holistic sense of what is going on.  No matter what you are doing you have to navigate change, the more conscious you are of that stuff and mindful of it the better the experience will be. 

Plans Change

I always viewed being in Chiang Mai as a 1-3 year plan, working for this school in particular but as soon as hockey came into the picture it completely changed my timelines.  What still resonates with me is I am going to stay here until it doesn’t makes sense any more.  Hockey is a larger influence on that than my work at the school because the results are a more immediate.  With hockey we are seeing immediate results, teams that were not doing very well are now having a chance to win in these tournaments and kids are developing at a very rapid rate.

Laying Roots

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