By: Kerry Jackson – JuniorHockey.com
In 1998, Mexico beat Turkey 28-0. Eleven years later, Hungary beat Mexico by the same score. No, they weren’t playing football. These were scores from International Ice Hockey Federation U20 World Junior Championship tournaments.
Mexico, which experienced both extremes in those four-touchdown shutouts, has been competing in international junior play since 1996, in what was then Pool D of the IIHF world junior championship. The team went 0-3 that year, scoring only five goals while allowing 40.
By 2005, though, Mexico won the Division III title, and then won it again in 2011.
The Mexican national team, will play in the 2019 tournament in Zagreb, Croatia, in Group B of Division II this January. The squad is likely to be led by Jorge Perez, a big 1998 center who was the top scorer for Mexico in the 2018 tournament, tallying three goals and three assists in five games. Perez has played in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (where he was the first Latin American player to reach Junior A in Canada), and in the Heritage Hockey League in Canada in Alberta; and for The Hill Academy in Ontario, and the Banff Hockey Academy in Alberta.
Maybe Mexico’s most interesting player is Luis Cruz, a 2000 winger who is still developing. He tied for second in team scoring in the 2018 WJC with one goal and two assists. But he truly shined in the 2018 U18 Division IIIA WJC, tying for the tournament scoring lead with 10 points on eight goals (by far the highest total in the tournament) and two assists.
Forward Carlos Ramirez, a 1999, also finished with three points in the 2018 U20 tournament, as did Luis Gil, a 1998 who plays both defense and wing. Gil played one game last year for Purdue’s American Collegiate Hockey Association Division III team, recording one assist.
Defenseman Gonzalo Hagerman, a 1999 playing for Lake Forest Academy in Illinois, paced Mexico’s blueliners with a goal and an assist in the 2018 U20 WJC. As captain of the U18 team, he scored one goal and set up six. He was the second-leading scorer on the team, behind only Cruz, and was ninth in overall scoring for the U18 tournament.
Also attending Lake Forest Academy is 2001 defenseman Jorge Ortiz. He had one assist last year’s U20 WJC and one goal and one assist in the U18 WJC. Only Hagerman put up better offensive numbers from the blueline for the Mexican U18 tournament team than Ortiz.
Mexico’s best option in goal could be Santiago Gomez, a 2000 who had a 3.00 goals-against average and .921 save percentage in one game in the U20 tournament, and a 2.14 GAA and .889 save percentage in the U18 WJC.
Other Mexican junior players to keep an eye on include Brandon Linares, a 2000 forward, who had two goals and four assists, and was a plus-2 in five 2018 U18 WJC games, and is now at the Ontario Hockey Academy; and 2001 goalie Marcello de Antunano, who played two games in that same tournament and came away with sterling numbers — a 1.32 GAA and .923 save percentage.