By Martin Merk – IIHF.com
The 2017 Development Cup offered Andorra to form a national team for the first time and serve as host of an international ice hockey tournament. Although the host team lost the games against Morocco, Ireland and Portugal, it was a good experience for them.
“It’s our first appearance in an international event. It was difficult against the opponents. We thought we could win against Portugal but we were not so good at converting the shots,” said Aleix Manosas, the local club’s President and Vicef President of the Andorran Ice Sports Federation who was in the net for his team.
“It’s important for us to have some international exposure, to say we’re little hockey countries but we’re developing and we’re here.”
Ice sports in Andorra are centred in the 2,000-soul village of Canillo in the northern part of the country in the Pyrenees. It is one of the major winter sport destinations in the country last but not least thanks to having the principality’s only ice rink, the Palau de Gel (“Ice Palace” in Catalan) that includes a full-size ice rink with 1,500 seats and an indoor swimming pool.
The opening of the ice rink in 1987 was the start of ice hockey, ice skating and curling in the country. The only hockey club, Andorra Hoquei Gel, was founded in 1990. The Andorran Ice Sports Federation came into existence in 1992 and joined the IIHF in 1995.
Since then Andorra hasn’t hit the international spotlight that much. Senior and junior teams sometimes play games in their neighbourhood with cities with hockey clubs such as Puigcerda (48 km) and Barcelona (200 km) in Spain, or Font-Romeu (65 km) or Toulouse (170 km) in France in driving distance. And in 1997 Spain hosted the 1997 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship D-Pool in Canillo.
“I remember Korea was here and now they earned promotion to the top division. I know we cannot play against Finland or Sweden like them but why not play in the lower divisions? We’ll fight for that. We are sure that the event is a sign that more people can try to play hockey like us and that more children will play the sport. Like that we can have a better team in the future,” said Manosas.
According to him there are 90 ice hockey players in the country, about half are senior players and half are children including 12 girls.
“Hockey in Andorra is played by only few people. Football and basketball are the sport played most often here. But in Canillo it’s a bit colder than in the rest in the country and we have an ice rink. We’ve been developing hockey since the early ‘90s and have been progressing step by step culminating with hosting the Development Cup,” he said.
2017 was a milestone with having the first official national team. It was mostly composed of players from the local club but also included former players of the club who moved to France including defenceman Louison Courcol (Poitiers), forward Alex Palmitjavilla (Montpellier) and captain Ludovic Blasi (Font-Romeu), who all play in the French fourth-tier competition.
“Most players are from Canillo, about 70 per cent, or from other towns in Andorra. We just had three players who played in France because they are students. In Andorra we don’t have a lot of universities so they have to go abroad. It’s good for us because they can see another style of hockey and coaching,” Manosas said about the situation in the high-altitude country of around 80,000 inhabitants.
“Normally the players here play in two small tournaments with ten games and some players play with Font-Romeu in the south of France to have maybe two or four games more. We are trying to do some exhibition games but it’s not so easy to go outside because our budget is not high. And we try to find more players to play in a French competition.”
For captain Blasi the event has been a great experience despite the losses.
“We are a small country with a few hockey players in Andorra and those who went to play abroad play at amateur level. We try to play against better teams like at the Development Cup, which is a good way to progress and grow hockey in Andorra,” the captain said. “10 to 12 players from the team have never played according to IIHF rules and with body-checking before. They were adapting the game with more intensity and more shots.
“It’s an honour to play for the country for the first time. Many play in the club in Andorra but it’s not the same as representing your country. We’ve been hoping for this since childhood.”
Andorra has a senior and now a youth team to make progress with the youngest players.
“We formed the under-10 team last year. They competed in two tournaments here and in Barcelona so they had 12 games. In the new season we want to take part in four tournaments so in the future we will hopefully have future champs,” Manosas said.