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Jamaica has another Winter Olympics dream: hockey

By Chris Peters | Hockey Writer

The Jamaican bobsled team may have company at the Winter Olympics one day. (USATSI)
The Jamaican bobsled team may have company at the Winter Olympics one day. (USATSI)

Everyone loves an underdog. That's why we have a litany of underdogs in the movies, from Rocky Balboa to Rudy to a bobsled team from the island of Jamaica. Now there's a new real-life underdog story being written and again it's Jamaicans at the heart of this tale.

Graeme Townshend, the first Jamaican-born player in the NHL, has a dream for his home nation. He wants to see a Jamaican hockey team in the Olympics in the next eight to 20 years. This is not a joke, though it could lead to some chuckles. It seems that most underdogs have to overcome some form of ridicule of those ignorant to their passion and drive to succeed anyway.

And by any account, it would appear Townshend is both passionate and driven for this goal. In a recent interview with the Toronto Star, Townshend spoke about his desires to create a hockey team for Jamaica, which at the present time has not one ice rink on the island.

“If we can pull this off, you're looking at an inspiring story and the idea that anything is accomplishable if you put your mind to it,” Townshend told the Star.

“If Jamaica can get a team in the world championships or the Olympics, that's like a miracle. It's something that's so outlandish that I think it actually might work.”

It may very well take a miracle for this to ever become a reality. As it currently stands, Jamaica is an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation, the first among Carribean nations to achieve such a status. The criteria for full inclusion in the IIHF requires the country to have at least one ice rink and a development program in place for the national team. IIHF membership is required for World Championship and Olympics participation.

Jamaica is no stranger to the Winter Olympics, though. The country has had 11 individuals represent the country in three sports at the Olympic Winter Games according to sports-reference.com. Jamaica has entered bobsled events in six Olympic Winter Games since 1988, most recently in 2014. The country's first appearance at the Winter Olympics was immortalized in the movie "Cool Runnings."

Jamaica has also had one Olympian in men's freestyle skiing. Trying to get the hockey team there is going to take a lot. Even Townshend's 20-year goal seems overly-optimistic at this point.

The IIHF reports that Jamaica currently has 20 player registered. There are more than 70 countries that are members of the IIHF and a lot of them have been long-established countries with hockey programs. Meanwhile, there are other countries that are pretty young in their hockey history, but have already built up enough to start competing in IIHF events. You'd be surprised at some of the names on IIHF's roster of member nations.

Townshend said the focus will be on finding North American players in the U.S. and Canada with Jamaican decent to help fill out the roster. He is holding a camp in Toronto this weekend for just that purpose and hopes to field a team that can tour around next summer according to the Star.

There are a number of NHL players with Jamaican heritage including Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers. Both have represented Canada internationally, however, and therefore would be ineligible to ever participate for a Jamaican national team in IIHF-sanctioned tournaments. But if Townshend could find some players of Jamaican descent from established hockey nations, he might get off to a decent start in building a team. To be eligible for IIHF play, most of those players would likely have to become naturalized as Jamaican citizens.

There are a lot of levels to the IIHF as well. A country has to go a long way to work its way up through the various low-level world championship events to earn promotion from one level to the next. That said, the idea that someone is willing to actually give an honest effort to building a national hockey program for Jamaica is pretty remarkable in itself.

The Kingston, Jamaica-born Townshend moved to Canada at age 3 and appeared in 45 NHL games in the NHL, which included stops with the Boston Bruins, New York Islanders and Ottawa Senators. He also played four years of U.S. college hockey at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. So he would know a thing or two about non-traditional hockey stories.

The odds are seemingly impossible for Jamaica to build up a team that can compete for a spot in the Olympics, but isn't that how every good underdog story starts?

(h/t @cyclelikesedins)

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