By George Da Silva – National Teams of Ice Hockey
Who is Luis de Almeida Johansson, Not known in the hockey circles so let me introduce him he is the national team goalie for Portugal and we had the great pleasure of speaking to him about hockey in Portugal.
Can you tell our viewers where did you start playing hockey?
I grew up in Quebec, Canada and I started playing hockey when I was a child. It’s almost impossible to not play hockey while your young in Canada. It becomes almost mandatory to everyone to skate and play at least at some stage. It is a true religion over there. And of course, we played hockey everywhere, at school, during winter in the exterior ice rinks, at the back garden.
Why did you became a goalie?
I started playing as a center forward, but to be frank, I always wanted to become a goalie. I truly admire someone that is willing to face dozens of shots per practice and game and still have a smile on their face. I also like the pressure behind it, it’s almost like being a lonely wolf within a wolf pack.
And of course, I had my childhood hockey idols that were all goalies, like Martin Brodeur, Dominik Hasek, Jocelyn Thibault and Damian Rhodes. And, one day, my team was searching for a goalie, so that was the moment, when I got the chance to fulfill my dream.
How did you hear about ice hockey in Portugal?
I moved to Portugal in 1996, but it was not until, I guess around 1999 to 2000. The vast majority of players that played ice hockey also played inline, so during those years we had an inline hockey championship and there was an idea to perform an exhibition game between a Portuguese national team and a Canadian team from Toronto area. That was the first major event for the Portuguese ice hockey community and even if I wasn’t part of the group at that moment, that was when I started playing ice hockey in Portugal.
What made you get involved in ice hockey in Portugal?
At the beginning, I would say that it was almost a must to maintain my sanity in a country where football is dominant. I had to play inline and ice hockey to keep reminding me of my roots. It also kept me close to the Canadian expat community.
Currently and with me being already on to my 30’s, it’s really to try to develop the sport in the country and to leave a legacy to the new generation of players.
When you tell people in Portugal about ice hockey what is there reaction?
When we started, I guess people didn’t really believed that we were playing ice hockey in Portugal. But recently we have been playing more and more games that have received some media coverage. As a result, the public opinion is changing. I guess people wonder how can we play ice hockey without a permanent ice rink…
As for the moment, we have a temporary ice rink near the border with Spain, for roughly two months per year, in a town called Elvas. A very peculiar fact about this arena is that it was made primarily for bull fighting spectacle’s.
Jim Aldred is coaching the team. How has he help with the ice hockey program in Portugal?
It was a turning point in the Portuguese ice hockey. Jim is a great coach that has the experience in developing young players. He also played professional and has the knowledge of someone that was within a NHL organization, the Buffalo Sabres. He also knows what it takes to bring us to the next level. I think that having the chance to have a coach with these kind of skills, is clearly the right path for a successful future.
Jim Aldred’s wife, Cristina is also playing a pivotal role within the support for the national team. She is behind many of the backstage organizational tasks, that allows the players to concentrate on their performance.
Portugal recently played in the Mr Taxi Cup in Spain, how do you think the team perform?
Under the current circumstances, I think that the Portuguese team played within their possibilities. We can’t forget that the vast majority of team practice prior to this tournament, were made in a roller hockey rink. The most important aim for the team, was to gain experience and to face opponents from all over Europe.
On a very positive note we had Isaac Carreiro who has been appointed as the top left winger for the tournament and it was also the first time that a Portuguese goalie had a shutout, with Max Andreyev’s 5-0 win against the Granada Eagles .
Outside of not having a suitable rink in the country, what other challenge are there for hockey in Portugal?
In first place, we need to quickly have a full up to speed Ice Hockey Federation, so that we can participate and promote ice hockey in the country. We also need to raise awareness within the authorities and civilian society that to have a permanent ice rink is not an unbelievable project and that it can be sustainable in the future, not only for ice sports, but also with a social mission within the community. The construction of the ice rink infrastructure is crucial for the development of the sport, I have no doubt about it.
Regarding the players, I’m sure we have the talent to perform, we have the example of great hockey players like John Tavares and Mike Ribeiro that have Portuguese roots. On another note, the country is also one of the major powers in roller hockey.
Finally, the Portuguese community in countries with ice hockey tradition, like Canada and the United States is so big that, in the near future, I would expect some players that play abroad to join the national team and to get these expat communities to support our project
Are there any future events plan for Portugal National Team?
Currently we have some invitations in hand to attend tournaments abroad. In the upcoming months, we expect to have some more information about the Schedule for 2017-2018.
Personally, I would enjoy seeing the Portuguese team play near expat Portuguese communities. It would be a great way to promote the sport and also to present our project for a future ice rink in the country.
What you like to tell the Portuguese people about ice hockey in Portugal?
That our dream of having an ice rink, it’s not a pharaonic enterprise. We truly believe that once we get this infrastructure in the country we will be able to not only develop ice sports, but also to be an asset to the community. We will be able to introduce children to different ice sports and who knows what they can become.
Also, Lisbon is currently bidding to host the title of 2021 European Capital of Sports. This could be a great opportunity to build an ice rink, unfortunately, Lisbon is still one of the few European capitals without an ice rink, then this would be perfect moment to do it.