Twenty-six hours. That's how long it takes to fly from Johannesburg, South Africa to Jamestown, N.D. That's the journey that Lomar Van Rooijen made to play hockey for the University of Jamestown’s Division II team….with a stop in Boston in between.
“In 2017, I had the opportunity to come to the United States for a training camp. The training camp was two weeks in Boston then I met an ex-NHLer and skills coach (Graeme Townshend) at the camp where I was. It’s actually thanks to him that I’m still able to play hockey because I went to his hockey school at the start of 2018,” Van Rooijen said. “I trained under him for six months then he invited me to go coach at one of his camps because I started learning what to do….Then the coach who was here, Coach Cole Bell, he was also involved at that camp and then I got recruited at the camp…. to come play in North Dakota.”
Van Rooijen is originally from Gauteng, South Africa, a 20 minute drive from the country’s largest city, Johannesburg. Van Rooijen grew up in an athletic family. His father represented their country in cricket, his mother played field hockey and his brother ran track and field.
While he loved hockey from a young age, it wasn’t his first love, that went to his father’s sport, cricket. But when Guateng got their first indoor rink in 2015, he jumped on the ice the next year and never looked back. His first hockey idol was Wayne Gretzky. He didn’t spend much time watching the sport’s preeminent league though because of the time difference.
Before arriving at the camp in Boston and then Jamestown, he played for his local team, the Gauteng Mustangs, which is an experience he cherishes, as is being part of a tight knit hockey community in South Africa.
“The community in hockey, even though we only have 1,000 registered hockey players in South Africa, the community was still so close knit everybody was just there to help each other,” Van Rooijen said. “They didn’t want to take advantage of you but they wanted to help you progress in the sport and actually get better at it.”
During the summer of 2018, he threw on his country’s colors for the first time and hit the ice at the Ice Station in Capetown.
“The first time I played there was for the IIHF World Championships. It’s an amazing feeling to be representing your country,” Van Rooijen said. “To stand at the blue line, while your national anthem is playing and you just hear, everything is silent, it doesn’t matter how many people there are, it’s just silent. It’s chills, I’m getting chills right now just thinking about it and then the moment you finish with the anthem, there is always one guy that just screams, it’s time to play hockey, and everybody just goes crazy.”
The learning curve was a steep one for Van Rooijen when he joined the Jimmies. He hit the weight room for the first time and learned how to be a college level defenseman with strategies and plays that were unfamiliar to him. Van Rooijen also had to learn how to do the office things that the Jimmies coaches expected like watching film. As a result, he has seen his hockey IQ grow over his time in the Jimmies program.
As a physical therapy major at UJ, Van Rooijen is hoping that his understanding of the body will help as he pursues post playing opportunities in the game, mainly as a coach.
After he finishes playing for the Jimmies, Van Rooijen wants to get into coaching, specifically in non traditional hockey markets alongside the current head coach of the Jamaica men's national junior hockey team, NHL vet Graeme Townshend.
“Yeah, I’m definitely going to coach. The head coach, Graeme Townshend has opportunities to start new programs because he’s looking into starting a program in Jamaica and he has a couple other opportunities further south to start programs there and he always needs coaches to coach there,” Van Rooijen said. “So I'll either help him coach in Jamaica or wherever other events are coming up.”