This year Portugal played in their first ever international ice hockey tournament in Andorra. It’s been a long journey for the country to get to this point and long the way Canadian Jim Aldred has been playing and coaching the Portuguese National Team.
We caught up with Jim and asked him some question about Ice Hockey In Portugal.
Can you talk a little bit about your playing career and being drafted by the Buffalo Sabers?
My history commenced in Toronto where I was born. I was a big guy so I always played on teams that consisted of players who were a year older than I.
I played til Bantam and skipped Minor Midget and Midget and advanced to Junior B. At that time I was 15 playing in a league that consisted of mostly 19-21 year olds. `I was then drafted to the OHL as an underage player to the Kingston Canadiens. There I had the priviledge of playing with or against players such as Doug Gilmour, Bernie Nicholls, Dave Andreychuk, Johnny Vanbiesbrouck.. During my second year there, I was drafted to the Buffalo Sabres in the NHL Draft 3rd round, 59th overall. During my 3rd year with the Canadiens, I was traded to the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL where I finished my Junior career there and also had the priviledge of being a room mate with Johnny Vanbiesbrouck, and having Rick Tocchet as a team mate. As a Pro I played in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Rochester Americans (Buffalo Sabers farm team) for two years side by side with Yvon Lambert, and attended training camps with great players such as Gilbert Perreault, Danny Gare, Lindy Ruff, Jim Schoenfeld. I also played in the International Hockey League for the Toledo Gold Diggers. Injuries got the best of me and after taking a year off I was on a plane to Holland as an import and played for the Nijmegen Spitmen where I played with Robert Forbes (Sidney Crosbies’ Uncle) and ended up winning the Championship back in 1988.
After your playing career you were the head coach of several teams in the GMHL. How did that help prepare you for what was to come?
As a head coach and player developer while working with different Junior A teams in the GMHL I worked with players not just from Canada and the USA but also from different corners of the world including Russia, Sweden, France, Italy, and Slovakia to name a few. I dealt with players who had different mentalities and outlooks which were taught in different Countries. The majority of them were being exposed to different nationalities for the very first time. I had to adapt to them and also get them to adapt to me and their new environment. Although ice hockey is an international language (to the Countries that have ice hockey) I had to work with the language barrier, different beliefs, different religions and old habits. For the majority, this was the first time they were away from the comforts of their own homes and from their families. I had to keep all of that in mind while building a winning hockey team. Some people think its easy being a coach, but there are many, many factors involved. You have to have the knowledge and be able to teach all of the required techniques for the game. You are not just a Coach, you have to be a teacher, a mentor, sometimes a parent, sometimes you have to be a friend and sometimes even their worst enemy. They have to learn new boundaries and expectations a little different from what they’re used to. After the development, you also need to build a team that can bond and work well together both on and off the ice. All of the above helped me with the position I currently find myself in at the moment. The role is reversed a bit as I’m the one who is now in a new Country and only understand a few Portuguese words, but I’m still finding myself adapting to the same scenarios and learning while I’m teaching the love for ice hockey. No, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
How did you end up in Portugal and becoming the head coach of Portugal National Team?
When I played pro for the Nijmegen Spitmen in Holland, I acquired a taste for the European lifestyle where everyone always made time for family and friends as opposed to the North American “go-go-go” lifestyle. I was in talks with the owner of Granada Igloo rink in Spain and the possibility of employment there. At the same time my in-laws decided to move full time to Portugal. One thing leads to another and my wife and I packed up and moved. During the construction delays of the rink in Span, we decided to temporarily make Portugal our home. After enjoying a lot of family and beach time, I started missing hockey. That’s when I began searching the Internet for hockey in Portugal and met a gentleman who put me in contact with Mauricio Xavier (President of FDPG – which is no longer exists) and other Portuguese residents which some have lived abroad and also acquired some passion for Ice Hockey. I started volunteering my time to coaching and developing them on in line skates and entered them into a tournament in Spain and, as they say, the rest is history.
How would you describe the caliber of the Portuguese players compared to North America?
North Americans grew up with ice hockey being basically the #1 sport …especially in Canada. I was on the ice by the time I was 4 years old. My Dad had signed me into a league by the time I was four and a half. I was lucky that I was raised in a Country where I had that opportunity & privilege. Saturday nights we would watch hockey games on TV after dinner. I would imagine being like one of my idols one day in the future. The excitement was overwhelming. If you loved it, you’d eat, sleep, breathe ice hockey. As a player, you’d miss many family functions and celebrations either due to practices or games. When talking about Portugal, the children do not have that same opportunity or advantage. There is no ice rink here. There is no ice hockey. Saturday evenings, the majority of the country will be watching a soccer game if there’s one being televised. Hence, their mindset, attitude, heart, dedication, is completely different. When discussing practices, they’ll miss one because there’s a birthday party they have to attend. They’ll miss another because it’s a holiday and the list goes on. Their mentality is different. But it’s due to the environment they’re currently in and how they were raised. This is changing now. This will be different once we have an ice rink. I have faith that the future will be brighter.
How did you prepare the National Team for their very first International tournament in Andorra?
I’d travel over 150 km’s each way to practically volunteer my time and coaching experience 2 times per week with anyone who wanted to join practices since January. If there are players that want to learn (m/f of all ages) I want to teach them. Since during the week the practice times available are only late at night, this would mean I’d be getting home shortly after 2 in the morning as the majority of the players are from around the greater Lisbon area. But, unlike the devoted players who would attend and work hard at the practices, at least I didn’t have to get up early to go to work or to go to School the next morning as is the case with the majority of the players. Since this was the first time that the majority of the players were being trained by a professional coach, there was a lot to be taught and a lot for them to learn. Skills, drills, hockey sense, hard work, bad habits, discipline, dedication and team work had a lot of room for improvement.
What is your take on how Portugal played in Andorra at the 2017 Development Cup?
To be honest, I was hesitant about accepting the invitation. We went in and my only expectation was to not get blown away. You have to keep in mind that the other teams we would be facing all practice regularly on ice. I’ll remind you that we practice on in line skates. Along with that, the other teams had players they acquired from abroad. We were able to acquire 2 Portuguese residents that joined our team from France (Sylvain Rodrigues and Christopher Teixeira Leite) and one player who had recently moved to Portugal from the US (Mateus de Melo), but we also had a young man that got to play ice hockey for his very first time (Yuri El-Zein). Our youngest goalkeeper (20 years old) who practically stood on his head defending shots fired at him (Ivan Silva) kept us in the games he played even though this was only his second time playing on ice. Needless to say when we won the first game, we were ecstatic. And although one of our players ended up getting a ride to the hospital (Diogo Xavier) after breaking his thumb during the last game, he was back in time to celebrate our second victory and partaking in the excitement of watching our captain (Kevin Hortinha) receive the bronze cup at the closing ceremony for the Portugal National Ice Hockey Team for their very first time. I’m extremely proud of how all of the guys came together and played as a great TEAM. I believe they’ve bonded more than ever and recognized that there’s more hard work to be done to get to the next level. They now truly understand that it takes TEAMWORK to be achieve that. That weekend, they reflected what they’ve learnt along the way, they’ve been working hard and it shows. They now have a different type of outlook and a new hunger to get better and do more moving forward. The recent practices reflect this and, I’m so proud of each of them and excited to see what the future has in store for them.
What is the biggest obstacle to obtaining money from Investors?
There’s no pinpointing it down to one obstacle, it’s a combination of multiple obstacles. We need to keep in mind that Portugal is still coming out of a crisis they experienced years go. With that in mind, nobody is wanting to step out of their comfort zone and invest into something that is totally new to them. A lot of people don’t adapt well to change. And, although ice hockey arenas are supported in every other Capital of all other European Countries, Lisbon is still the only one that hasn’t crossed that milestone. They say Portugal doesn’t have money for “that”. Portugal does have money, however, the money goes towards funding soccer and the Portuguese traditional hockey, and towards figure skating on roller skates. It works for them, it has worked for them and that is the mentality here that we need to change. Normally in North America and other countries, it is usually a hockey lover (who can afford to), either individuals or a company that invests in a hockey team or in a rink. Unfortunately the majority of the Portuguese Nationality that reside in Portugal haven’t had the exposure to ice hockey to know the potential that an ice rink / ice sports could hold. Even though I’m a hockey coach, there are other sports such as speed skating, figure skating, curling and others that can not be developed in Portugal until we are able to attain our own permanent official sized ice rink. We know that there is a huge population of ex pats in Portugal that have the same dream as I do, go to the beach during the day and then off to the rink to watch a hockey game at night, yes, right here in this beautiful country. Maybe one or four of them would like to step up? With an ice rink, other business opportunities will also come about. We will need pro shops/ suppliers/ distributors for the equipment pertaining to all of the different ice sports. As of right now, obviously none of that is available in Portugal, actually even in line skates have to be ordered from abroad.
We all know that Portugal does NOT have an ice rink. Can you tell us what efforts (if any) have been made to get an ice rink built?
We are walking down all of the possible different avenues we can think of and following any leads that are suggested. We have a project which reflects Return on Investment within 5 years. We also made the decision to go under the umbrella of FDI-Portugal. (Federacao de desportos de inverno/The Federation of Winter Sports in Portugal). Their President, Pedro Farromba is also a member of the Olympic Committee here in Lisbon. FDI is also part of our journey in obtaining our first permanent official ice rink in Portugal. They are assisting us with our focus on the ice hockey operations and, they’re also working with other winter sports (curling, luge, skiing… ) We have had meetings with and are awaiting for a follow up with the Municipality of Sintra who has offered us the land to build if we can come up with the investors. We are also awaiting to hear back from the Municipalities of Oeiras and Cascais. We are putting ourselves out there via social media. Our Facebook page “Portugal Ice Hockey” is receiving a lot of attention. We have been reaching out to news stations and newspapers. Just recently one of our popular newspapers “Correio da Manha” ran a full page on us. Now that the small temporary ice rinks are poping up, we are taking that opportunity to have the team strap on their ice skates and we are holding meet, greet and skate events with the National and Luso Lynx Players. We held our first at the Dolce Vita Tejo shopping mall on November 18th and we are in the process of organizing some more. Basically, we need the public to know what we are doing. Getting as much exposure as possible is very important in hopes that the right person/people will gain interest and assist us with our goal, obtaining an ice rink.
The Luso Lynx is a new Ice hockey club from Portugal. Can you tell us about them and what are the expectations for the club?
I was invited to have a team join the Andalusian Ice Hockey League (AIHL) in Spain. I was hesitant at first due to the financial strain on the players who had recently dealt with the expense of going to Andorra’s 2017 Development Cup. After further conversations and having the FDI assisting with the registration fees, I received positive responses from the players. Not only from some of the players from the National team, but also from other players that have ice hockey experience. Interested players voted on names and came up with LUSO LYNX. (Thank you Mauricio Xavier for working on the jerseys) The league was willing to work with us to plan the calendar to ensure that we will only travel down once a month or so and play 2 to 3 games at a time as opposed to traveling down weekly and having us incur more expenses. Even with that, each player is still spending around 120 Euros out of each of their own pockets per trip on transportation, hotel and meals. We appreciate all of their sacrifices and dedication in this journey with us. By joining this league, along with expecting my players to gain more on ice experience and make them a stronger team for the upcoming scheduled tournaments (March in Holland and April in Granada, Spain), I’m also hoping that we will do well and that someone will gain interest and will want to sponsor us. We want to show everyone including and especially the Municipalities and possible investors that we do have potential and we do need an ice rink in Portugal. Why should we be vesting our funds in a different Country? Instead of us investing our money in their hotels and at their restaurants, if we had an ice hockey rink in Portugal, we could be holding tournaments and our businesses here could profit from teams coming from abroad to play here instead.
When will the Luso Lynx begin play?
First game will be Saturday November 25th and followed by November 26th, 2017
If anyone wanted to play or tryout for the Luso Lynx how would the get in contact?
They can email Portugalicehockey@gmail.com or phone +351 914 637 451 and speak with Christina Lopes.
If or when an Arena or ice rink is built what do you think the potential for ice hockey can be in Portugal as a non traditional sport.
Not “if” … an ice rink WILL be built in Portugal… within the next four years! It’s only a non traditional sport for now…once we get a rink, all that will change.
What is your favorite NHL team and Player?
This is a hard question for me to answer. My wife would want me to say my favorite team is the Toronto Maple Leafs. I personally enjoy watching any great games between two good teams. Back in the 70’s I’d cheer on the Flyers mainly because when I was younger, I looked up to Bobby Clarke with his style and leadership skills. Later on I admired Paul Coffey due to his skating ability and how he was able to control the game. I’m definitely showing my age here, aren’t I? I’m also a fan of Sidney Crosby who is an all around great player both defensively and ofensively with great leadership qualities. You can always count on him to perform. He has proven that playing in the NHL as well as during his time with Team Canada. Did I mention that I played pro with his uncle (Robert Forbes) back in Holland? I also enjoy watching Matthews and McDavid on the ice, and feel that their future is very bright should they continue on the path they’re currently on.