By George Da Silva – National Team of Ice Hockey
We had the great pleasure to speak to Aaron Guli President of the Ireland Ice Hockey Association. Ireland has not been on the International scene in a number of years, but Aaron Guli hopes to change that someday but for now the focus is on youth hockey and building the game from with in.
Can you give us some insight on when you became President of the Ireland Ice Hockey Association and why did you take the job?
I became President of the IIHA four years ago. I took the job because our association was in need of a complete overhaul. With my experience in hockey and business I felt that I could help to implement the changes that were needed.
Ireland has a rich ice hockey history but the game has not taking off like some people would like, can you explain why?
The reason for the stagnation in hockey here in Ireland boils down to one issue, the lack of a permanent rink. There was a lovely arena in Dundalk but it closed in 2010 due to management issues. So without a rink it becomes difficult to implement programs to grow the game.
The Belfast Giants have helped ice hockey grow in Northern Ireland, but has it helped Ireland?
The Belfast Giants have certainly been key in the growth of hockey in Northern Ireland. I feel that their influence has been minimal here in Ireland. It’s good to be able to go and see a live game but it is a haul to get there. It would be roughly two hours each way to get there from Dublin. We have a cable channel here that shows NHL, Swedish Elite League and English Elite League games.
What other things is the IIHA doing to grow the game in Ireland?
There are a good few things we have been focusing on over these last four years. First we are focusing on youth hockey. We have established the first ever National Junior Development Program. We take the more advanced players from out youth clubs and start to prepare them to represent Ireland on an international level. We call the team the Saints. We have been having them travel internationally the past year. We’ve were in Boston and Toronto, Iceland, UK last season and we have teams traveling to Spain, England, and Belgium this season. We work on getting donations of equipment sent from North America to provide for the youth clubs. This helps to lower the costs. We have been working on improving our coaches nationally through course work and seminars. On a senior level we created an annual Cup competition. In one year it has grown from four teams to ten. We have been fortunate to have four teams from Northern Ireland take part this season. There are certainly more things we have been working on but these are just a few.
Ireland Men’s National Team has not played at the IIHF World Championships since 2013 with the closure of the Dundalk Ice dome. When do think Ireland will be back at the International stage?
We are not allowed to put any of our teams in IIHF World Championships due to not having a rink. The IIHF Minimum Participation Rules state that until we get a permanent arena we can not take part.
Are there any future plans to build an Olympic size arena in Ireland?
The IIHA is continuously working on trying to get a new rink open. We have two main possibilities at this point. There is the facility in Dundalk that closed seven years ago and there is a site in Dublin we have been working on. The major issue we have at this point is financing. Our government does not support sports like ours so we would not be in a position to receive support from them. After completing a comprehensive business plan we are looking, primarily in North America, for investment.
How do you think Ireland compares to other national teams after being away for a numbers of years from the international stage?
On the Div 3 level, that was the last level we competed at, I think we would still be one of the top teams in that division.
The Irish Ice Hockey League was founded in 2007 but it collapsed due to funding issues. Are there any plans to revive the league?
The IIHL actually folded when the rink in Dundalk closed. Without a rink it’s rather difficult to run a league. Once we get a rink open again we may revisit the idea of restarting the league but it’s not something we focus on at this time. The Cross Border Cup is the extent of what we are offering at this time.
Can you elaborate about the Cross Border Cup. Who plays in it and when is it played?
The Cross Border Cup consists of 8 clubs and 10 teams. There are 3 clubs/4 teams from Northern Ireland and 5 clubs/6 teams from Ireland. We are currently in the playoff final rounds now. That has been broken in to two levels, A & B. It is played on varying nights, primarily on Saturday nights. The teams are made up of players 18 yrs of age and older (there are a few exceptions of players between 16-17 yrs based on playing ability). The Cup is also open to male and female players.
Have you had any seminaries with players or coaches to improve their skills?
We have been focusing on sending our kids and coaches abroad for camps and seminars. This summer, though, I am hoping to bring over a power skating instructor to run a camp at one of the rinks in Northern Ireland.
What would you like people to know about Irish Ice hockey?
We have hockey here in Ireland! We have a great mix of Irish, eastern European, and North American players. We have a growing youth program. We do this all without a rink. Imagine what it would be like with a rink. We have two great locations to get a rink opened but we need investment. We are hoping to attract interest from North amebic in that regard. Hockey is a sport made for the Irish, fast and physical.
What is your favorite NHL team and player?
The Montreal Canadiens. Past, Larry Robinson. Current, PK Subban or Carey Price.