Hockey wasn’t Kristoff Malcolm’s sport growing up in his Caribbean homeland of Turks and Caicos Islands.
It couldn’t have been. Years later, the number of ice rinks in the British territory is still zero.
Fortunately for Malcolm, plenty of Canadian expatriates brought their love for hockey to the archipelago.
After first being introduced to the roller hockey version of the game at age 10, Malcolm eventually found his way to a sport that has defined his life. He’s a former captain of Florida Gulf Coast University’s powerhouse club program and a current member of the promising young Jamaican national team pushing for a prominent international presence.
“Hockey for the majority of my life has been my life. I love the game,” said Malcolm. “FGCU played a very pivotal role in developing everything that I already knew was important to becoming successful, whether it was organization, creating more friendships or networking. The teachers were great. I’m very blessed.”
Not that foreign
First things first: Ice hockey is not exclusive to northern climates – as is well-established by programs such as FGCU’s four-time, Division 2 national championship club squad. Many players of Caribbean descent have played in the NHL, although they have typically been born or raised in Canada or other traditional hockey hotbeds.
Malcolm didn’t have that benefit.
A goalie in roller hockey until age 14, he’d skated on ice once in his life. After showing promise, it was suggested he try his hand out of the net and on the traditional hockey surface. A year later, he moved to New Brunswick, Canada, with his aunt and uncle’s family — Sue, Jagan and Jade Malcolm — whom he credits for his smooth transition into life outside of the islands. Later that same year, he enrolled at a boarding school in Canada and immersed himself in the game.
Malcolm laughs recalling his very first shift, when a short but powerful player knocked the 6-foot, 230-pound Malcolm into the players’ bench.
“I remember thinking, ‘What the hell did I just get myself into?’” said Malcolm.
Unable to skate backward when he first arrived in Canada, Malcolm credits key mentors with helping him thrive, often against far more-experienced peers.
“I was able to have a good support system,” he said, noting coaches who cared not just about winning but players’ well-being. “That’s where I really found a love for the game.”
After two years of instruction in Canada and three seasons in the northern U.S. Malcolm set his sights on college hockey. FGCU proved the perfect fit.
“I had a little bit of the weather from home,” said Malcolm. “I was able to go to practice in flip-flops for the first time in my life. I just loved everything about it.”
It didn’t take long for Malcolm’s diligent but affable manner – not to mention raw ability, brawny physique and ever-improving skills – to make him a leader at FGCU.
“He was never satisfied,” said Tom Philbin, a coach for Malcolm’s first three seasons at FGCU who is returning to coach FGCU’s D3 squad in fall 2022. “He always wanted to be better individually and as a team. Guys looked up to him.”
After playing on the D2 team as a freshman, Malcolm played forward on the D3 team his sophomore, junior and senior seasons while also serving as co-captain. Deciding to stay at FGCU an extra year to turn one bachelor’s degree into two, he returned to D2 in a fifth season.
During his junior year, his co-captain on the D3 team, Alfonso Diaz, mentioned playing for Puerto Rico in the LATAM Cup in 2019. Through family heritage, Malcolm soon secured a spot on the Jamaican team that went on to win the international tournament. The team continues to push for greater international impact, including targeting a spot in the 2026 Winter Olympics.
“I don’t know if I’ll still be playing when that comes around,” said Malcolm, who turns 27 in July.
Along with keeping in shape for pending tournaments by playing in recreational leagues, Malcolm is helping Jamaica’s grassroots efforts. He teaches rules, organization and other structural elements to younger organizers back in Jamaica via video conferencing.
“It really wants to graduate up to the big leagues,” Malcolm said of a nation without a single ice rink – and must have one to meet international requirements.
After graduating from FGCU in 2021 with bachelor’s degrees in finance and accounting, Malcolm had offers to play professionally in several minor leagues, some in England. But after spending more than a decade away from his family, he wanted to put his education to good use as close to home as possible. He now lives and works in Broward County as a lease administrator for a Denmark-based company.
“I always said I want to have two plan As instead of a plan A and plan B,” he said.
That’s the kind of attitude that made Malcolm successful in the classroom, not to mention the ice.
“FGCU should be glad that it had him come through here,” said Philbin, Malcolm’s former coach. “I know the hockey program was extremely grateful for everything he brought. He’s just one of the great kids that you get to run across in coaching.”