Picture credit to Naz Brown

I recently received a great message from Jason Cotsmire, a Long Island, NY native who now lives in Bangkok, Thailand, about a rather interesting sighting at his local arena these days: Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya.

It turns out that while other NHL players are trying to stay sharp by playing in a variety of European Leagues, Oduya wanted to take a little vacation, but still keep his skills sharp – Thailand was his solution. Here’s how Oduya’s participation there came to pass, from Cotsmire:

It was totally out of the blue and something I never would have believed, but I got it directly from his best buddy who joined him on the trip. Apparently they were celebrating his buddy’s birthday when the subject of the lockout came up and Johnny mentioned that if it kept on going, he was heading to Thailand for a vacation. [name redacted] told him he should check out if there was hockey there so he could still get some skates in and stay in shape…slightly kidding.  Johnny picked up his iPhone did a quick search and came upon www.flyingfarangs.com. Not only was there hockey here but he was going to be here during the dates of our annual tournament.

The tournament Cotsmire is referring to is The Land of Smiles ice hockey classic, “an annual mens league competition held in Bangkok to help raise money for hockey in Thailand and slum kids/communities in Bangkok through The Mercy Center.”

It was originally a four-team event that’s in its 18th version, and now features 60 men’s league teams from around the world. There’s a “rec” division – good players, with an emphasis on the beer and fun – and an “open” division, for those who think they still may have a pro shot.

Something else cool to note: this year Vesa Toskala participated in the event as a forward with a Finnish team, and previous tournaments have seen Troy Crowder and Neal Broten get involved.

More on the tournament from Jason before we resume:

Over the years, we have had teams consistently attend from countries such as Singapore, Malaysia, China, Hong Kong, Japan and the UAE. Most of these teams are made up of expat Canadians/Americans and Europeans currently living/working in those respective countries. Additionally as the tournament became more well known, we’ve had teams from Russia, Switzerland, Finland, Serbia, Latvia, Canada and the USA come out and join us as well.

Back to Oduya’s story, and how he ended up following through:

He contacted the organizer of the tournament and things just went into full affect from there.  When we first heard he was coming, many of the guys in Bangkok figured that one of our Swedish guys knew him or knew someone that knew him…Nope, turns out it was just totally by circumstance that it all came together. Johnny arrived Friday morning in Bangkok, went to a seaside resort for a few days and we had a small morning skate with him on the Monday of the tournament week followed by Tuesday night shinny before the tourney to get him accustomed to his new teammates.  Let’s just say it was a surreal experience to be playing with a current NHLer. Of course Johnny played with our Open Division Bangkok team and led them to the Championship of our own tournament for the first time ever.

Picture credit to Naz Brown

Here’s the winning squad:

Oduya gave some quotes to the Bangkok Post about his experience there.

On the vacation destination that is Thailand:

“I wanted to come back to Thailand for a while. It is a big holiday spot for Swedish people to go when it gets colder back home.”

On the event, from the Bangkok Post:

“I didn’t know if it would be a good idea but once we started looking into it a bit more we got more excited. I didn’t know that it would end up anything like this, this is a much bigger venue than anything I thought I would be part of.”

“The facilities here are unbelievable for being in a mall in a tropical paradise,” he said with a chuckle at the rink at Rama IX.

And finally from the Bangkok Post, on surprising people:

“In the beginning, the first day, I showed up to practice and it was more like ‘oh you are here, we didn’t really think you were going to show up’,” he said. “They thought it was all talk. I hope they think it’s been fun and as long as everybody has a good time I’m happy with that.”

To me, this is perfection. It’s just the ideal way to use the lockout – see somewhere new, do something cool, make an effort to stay on your skates and not get too rusty. And in the middle of your career, it’s not the worst thing in the world to let your body heal up with a nice break from seriously competitive hockey, especially if the NHL resumes play sometime this season.

You can check out the Flying Farangs website here, and their Facebook page here.