Bangkok’s Land of Smiles ice hockey tourney marks its 25th anniversary this fall and organizer Scott Whitcomb is hoping 35 teams will compete in the tournament, which has become a “must attend” event for recreational hockey players in the region.

First, some background: the original Flying Farang fall ice hockey classic was organized by Bert Terry in 1995 at the old Ramkamhaeng Mall IV rink. The next year, after that rink closed, the tourney moved to Samrong Arena and Czech Airlines’ Jiri Pos ran it calling it the OK Cup after that airline’s call sign. In 1997. Flying Farang Kevin Hall took over the tourney and ran it at Samrong until 2000, and then when Samrong shut down, he moved it to Chiang Mai’s Kad Suan Gao arena for 2001 and 2002.

For 2004 and 2004, Kevin gave control of the tournament to Hong Kong-based Asia Sports run by Tom Barnes and Keith Fong. They moved it back to Bangkok and the tournament was based out of Bangkok’s World Trade Centre (now Central World).

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The World Trade Centre rink closed in January of 2005, in the fall of that year Scott Whitcomb and his company JOG Sports (then Jamcomb Sports), at the urging of Flying Farang captain Scott Murray, took over the tournament, renaming it the Land of Smiles (LOS), and they have taken it to new levels ever since.

Ironically, Scott was teaching in Kobe when his company took over the tourney and he took time off to return to Bangkok’s Samrong arena to run the tourney with Jamie Marriott and Dave Cote. In the early days, the logistics were a bit overwhelming and the three were known to sleep at the rink just to make sure everything ran according to plan. Scott recalls his first tourney had 16 teams with an Asian and international division.

Scott kept the tourney at Samrong until the new arena at Rama IX opened in the middle of 2012 (Scott started his Oldtimers tourney for players 35 years and over in the spring of 2008). The last tournament at Samrong in 2011 coincided with the Bangkok floods and may of the players had to wade through knee-deep water just to get to the rink.

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Scott says scheduling is imperative in making a tourney run properly. As such, once he has the teams finalized he takes about two weeks to finalize the schedule juggling all the participating teams’ itineraries to try and come up with a timetable that makes everyone happy.

NHL players that have appeared in the tourney over the years include Neal Broten, Troy Crowder, Johnny Oduya, Vesa Toskala, and Sami Helenius. In 2006, Natalie Glebova, Miss Universe of 2005 dropped the puck for the tourney and posed for photos with many of the delighted players.

Over the years, teams have come from Australia, Canada, China, the Czech Republic, Dubai, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, Kuwait, Malaysia, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Taiwan, the United Arab Emirates, and the USA.

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Scott admits yearning a bit for the old days at Samrong when the event was more like a tailgate party/hockey tournament with the Pelican Bar staging a BBQ in the parking lot outside the arena. The players would congregate for longer at the rink back then.

Scott has had some help along the way, including his stalwart refereeing crew led by Richard Alanthwaite, Shaun Eddie, Mark Lauriente and Sakchai ''Jeab'' Chinanuvatana. BNH and Samitivej hospitals have provided medical support over the years and the Amari and Movenpick hotels have been the tourney’s principle hotel sponsors.

His dad, Brad, has also been a big help over the years helping to organize all the participating teams as they check in to the tournament. Scorekeeper Alex Manton has done yeoman’s work as the scorekeeper in recent years. And the rink staff at both Samrong and the Rink Rama IX have performed Herculean tasks over the years to keep the tourneys running on time.

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A new twist to this year’s tourney, set for Oct 23-26, is a youth tourney run by Asia Ice Events, tournament director Keith Fong, the weekend before the big tourney. The LOS will feature four different men’s division and a women’s division this year, of latter of which has doubled in previous years.

Every year, Scott and his wife Jeab donate a sum of money to Father Joe Maier’s Human Development Centre and Father Joe and many of the kids from the HDC come to the final games on the last day to enjoy the spectacle.

Scott’s tournaments have become so popular that players schedule their annual holidays around them just so they can participate (www.jogsports.com), photos by Naz Brown.

 

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