Author: NationalTeamsOfIceHockey (page 1 of 102)

Q & A With Scott Killips

Scott Killips head coach of Puerto Rico national team

By George Da Silva – National Teams of Ice Hockey

When you think of Puerto Rico Ice Hockey is not the first sport that pops into your head its Baseball, but for Scott Killips hockey is his life and when he had the opportunity to coach Puerto Rico National Ice Hockey Team at the Latam Cup he jump on it. We caught up with Scott and ask him a few question about hockey on the island and the Latam Cup.

How did you get into coaching and why sledge hockey?

My Father, and my Great Uncle were both hockey coaches out of Sault Ste Marie Michigan, so I’ve always had the “coaching bug”.I’ve played hockey my entire life & I got into coaching hockey back in 1993 in Central Michigan. We were a new organization coming from an outdoor program and moving indoors into a new building. Being a part of a new program afforded me a lot of opportunities to learn at many levels. When I relocated to West Michigan several years later, a similar opportunity arose with starting a relatively new program which I became a part of.  Once we moved to Florida about 5 years ago, my son was just finishing up his youth hockey and I inquired into coaching again. I was put in touch with Ron Robichaud from Florida Sled Hockey and immediately became a fan of sledge hockey. 

I’ve coached from the ADM all the way up, I was never exposed to sled hockey until coming to Florida and it didn’t take long to “sink the hooks in”. At the time, Ron had run 2 programs, 1 in Ft Myers at a recreational level and another team as a state-wide Florida Elite level.

Watching those athletes play a game I’ve coached and played most of my life was incredible. It’s the same game, just played differently. The physical nature of the game of sled hockey is what really got me excited to Coach again. Although the game is similar, the training, equipment, conditioning & dexterity and agility are way different. Even though its basically the same game; as a coach, sled hockey gives you a different perspective of the game.

Ron and I won a National Championship in the NHL Sled Classic hosted at the Panther Den in 2015. The banner is still hanging there today. That was a tournament to remember! We ran a sled hockey clinic in Aguadilla Puerto Rico shortly after that and it went over very well. The people in the area from the Mayor on down were incredibly welcoming and excited to see hockey come to them. We had  a representative from the Panthers organization along with us that ran an outdoor hockey clinic and gave sticks & nets to the community. In the future, we are hoping to start programs there for the youth, adult and disabled community.

How did you hear about Puerto Rico ice hockey. Why did you want to coach them?

There’s a saying in hockey “85% of coaching is 95% recruiting I don’t know much about how the other teams came to fruition, but ours came at the hands of Ron Robichaud the teams G.M. He literally handled this thing from pillar to post! He assembled the team, paid the fees, ordered the jerseys, sticks, shirts, booked the rooms, contacted players/other G.Ms scheduled scrimmages, ordered merchandise, the whole 9-yards. And he did it all in about 90 days!! #notabigdeal –)

Ron has a lifetime of hockey experience and contacts around the globe, literally. He knew that I would be interested in Coaching the team and I was Humbled and Honored when he asked me to coach this team. 

The caliber of players that Ron assembled in that short amount of time made things very easy for me as a Coach. The hockey I.Q of this team was very high and they came together very quickly over a short period of time. If all skill levels are equal, these types of tournaments are usually won by those team that bond the quickest & make the least amount of mistakes. As a Coach, you couldn’t ask for a better locker room of players. Our team was comprised of all ages 53-16 years old. I believe that we had the only co-ed team in the tournament as well as the smallest bench. That just goes to show the character level of all the players we had on this team.

This tournament meant something to each and every person involved with it and I sincerely hope that the people of P.Rico appreciate the commitment that was made from everyone involved in this event. We had players traveling from the island , from Chicago, D.C and the Carolinas. We had a father and three of his sons representing the island as well. I cannot imagine how excited he was, not only to represent his country, but to do it with his three boys as well! By the way, he got our first goal as well…..#notabigdeal..wink

What were the expectations Going into the Latam Cup?

We honestly had no idea what to think about our team until we assembled them the day of the first game. We knew we had some good hockey players because of their backgrounds & where they played; however; we honestly had no idea what skill level that we had in totality. We had a scrimmage the night before vs Mexico that went pretty well; however a couple of teammates could not be there, so it was nice to see how quickly they figured each others playing styles and who works best where.

It’s very easy to “over-coach” or inject yourself as a coach into the team, but I’ve found that allowing the team to work things out among themselves adds to the continuity of the team. In my experience, coaching is not done from the bench anyways. You have to read and react to certain situations that you or your other coaches see, but those are adjustments. Coaching is made from analyzing what your teams strengths are and what your opponents weaknesses are and making a game plan for your next opponent. The credit for this teams success lies in the G.M who got the right mix and the players who executed.

Puerto Rico made to the final of division II but lost. Do you think you could none anything different that might of changed the outcome?

We went into this tournament with nothing else in mind than to win it. I think any team you put together for this type of tournament, you hope that is their mentality.

We had several chances in the first period to jump into an early lead, but we couldn’t cash in..We moved the puck well, we played our game, We had everything we needed to win, speed through the neutral-zone, rushes from our defense and strength down the middle of the ice. We played hard and fast hockey, which was our style of game, but when you are not getting the bounces and things start going the other way, things tend to be like quicksand; the harder you try, the worse they get.

At the same time, they capitalized on the chances that they got. A little “puck-luck” and a bounce or two and we were right back in the game. but it didn’t work out. Bottom line is that we lost to a very good R.O.T.W team who’s goaltender played outstanding…..I think our team left everything they had on the ice and that’s all you can really ask for.

Overall what do you think about the talent level and Latam Cup in general?

I read a good majority of the player bios before attending the Cup, so I was not surprised at the skill levels of the players or coaches. There are some seriously good hockey players involved in this and that’s a great thing. The speed and skill levels of some of these teams was great!  If anything kinda took me by surprise it was the amount of fans and supporters in the stands and the amount of teams and divisions! It was truly something to see with the fans waiving banners and flags, singing and cheering for their respective teams. That was, by far , the best thing about the tournament for me. The amount of people who traveled for this to support their teams was amazing! This was a very well run tournament in all respects.

With the Ice rink in Puerto Rico almost complete, will Puerto ice hockey invest in youth programs?

Well, we don’t have any kids skating yet.. Until we get the boards up, that first layer of ice down and that first player signed up we really can’t hang our hats on anything quite yet. There’s a long-long road ahead and a ton of work to be done! From what we have experienced on our last trip to Puerto Rico with the introductions to sled and street hockey; I think the timing is right, the community certainly support is there as well.

But we still need funds to make this a reality, not just for a shirt-term, but to really put Puerto Rico on the “Hockey Map” long-term. Once the infrastructure is in place, then we can start building a youth & disabled programs and that’s what is truly exciting! It’s exciting to be part  of Growing the Game in the Caribbean! If you had asked me this question 10 years ago about youth hockey in Puerto Rico, I would have though you had a “few too many with the fellas”, but seeing this movement grow in all of these countries and being a part of it is truly amazing and something that I am honored to be a part of!

Do think the game can grow on the Island giving that Baseball is such a big sport and cheaper sport to play?

The financial aspect of the game of hockey is always a tough one. With any project you have, you begin with the end in mind..So, starting things off with a budget to work with is paramount in growing and maintaining this game in any area..It’s certainly going to take more than a few hands on deck, right?  We are going to need long-term, established sponsors who are committed to see this through. Sponsors who not only want to be a part of growing the game of hockey, but who see an incredible opportunity here for long-term, sustainable product growth. The game of hockey has grown exponentially over the last decade or so. The amount youth, adult, disabled, women’s and girls teams continues to grow, so there is a real opportunity here for someone to step in and make this work. U.S.A Hockey exists primarily on volunteers, so essentially, manpower is the easy part. It’s going to be the long term, committed sponsors/donors that make the game of hockey thrive or simply chug-along (in my humble opinion) I’m excited to see what the NHL has in store for supporting the game in this region.

There are now two Caribbean nations that play hockey yourselves and Jamaica. Do think the game can spread to other Caribbean nations in the near future?

Why Not? I mean 10 years ago would you ever have thought there would be a Jamaican or Puerto-Rico hockey team? Not me, I also never thought there would be a NHL team in Arizona, or Anaheim for that matter Las Vegas, Seattle! How about China, Japan, Netherlands, Korea? Even the Middle East is developing hockey teams on a competitive level, so why not the Caribbean? Not only are these teams competitive, but the markets there are very supportive of their teams and again, the minor leagues, the youth teams, women’s teams, disabled teams are booming! But again, it’s the long-term financial commitment that’s going to be the difference between those programs who excel and those who fall flat. Hockey is for Everyone Right! So lets Grow the Game!

When you are not coaching, what do like to do in your spear time?

I love to fish and spend time with my kids and grand kids.I have three children, 2 all grown and out of the house, but one left. My daughter, son law &  granddaughter are in Naples, so we get to see them a lot. My boys still skate every so often with me in Ft Myers, so it’s really a treat when I get to experience that! There’s not a lot of those experiences left in the tank, so I tend to really appreciate those times when it happens.

My wife and I are coming up on 26 years of marriage and for most of those 26 years we have been in and out of hockey rinks! We just battled through stage 3 breast cancer this past year and that was a tough battle. So we plan on traveling in the next few years. Maybe visit a few rinks south of Florida (wink wink).Hockey has brought so many great people into our lives that I don’t really know what it’s going to be like as I step away from the game. Thank you for this opportunity! IF you need anything else, please don’t hesitate to ask!

Latam Cup Round-Up

By Ryan Bahl – National Teams of Ice Hockey

The LATAM Cup is a development tournament for players from the Americas with a focus on Latin American and the Caribbean. This year’s tournament included four divisions including Men’s Div 1, Men’s Div 2, U16, and Women’s. The Women’s Division hosted Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil with Argentina beating Colombia 4-2 in the final. The U16 division hosted Argentina, Colombia, Stanley (Falklands) and USA with Colombia beating Argentina 3-1 in the finals to take gold. The Men’s Div 2 hosted Puerto Rico, Rest of the World (the Falklands), Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. The ROTW team beat Puerto Rico 6-2 and won the Div. 2 title. The top Men’s Division hosted Jamaica, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Brazil with Jamaica beating Colombia 4-2 in the top division in double overtime.

Argentina and Colombia had great showings as they were the only two countries represented at every level. Colombia finished in the top 3 in each of it’s respected divisions. Each division had a different country win their respected title as well (Jamaica, ROTW, Argentina, Colombia).

For me personally – I played with the ROTW team made up of primarily British nationals and Commonwealth citizens who have either lived or worked in the Falkland Islands (the smallest nation to ever play ice hockey). The level of play was naturally a bit mixed in the 2nd division because teams were made up of inline players, dek hockey players, and ice hockey players, some of whom have never skated on a full sized ice rink before (including our very own players Sam Cockwell and Claudio Ross with ROTW). For a lot of countries represented in this tournament – they primarily play inline hockey because they do not have access to ice or only get to play ice maybe once or twice a year.

The top men’s division was a bit better (in terms of skill level) compared to the second division with most players living and playing in North America. For example – some of the Jamaican team included players playing or living in Canada. These players do of course have direct ties and family members residing or from Jamaica. Access to ice and high-level competitive hockey is obviously more available throughout North America. Players in division one also included current professional players playing throughout North America. The main difference in skill level between these divisions was really just the access to ice and how often players from these teams are able to skate and play.

The U16 and Women’s divisions ended up being really competitive as well with Colombia and Argentina playing each other in both finals and with one team winning each division (Colombia U16 and Argentina for Women’s). A lot of players from both teams and both divisions arrived early in Florida to attend a Goalie and Sniper camp in order to get more ice time leading up to the tournament.

It’s been a few days since the tournament and I have already seen tremendous support pour in on social media including posts and shares from the NHL, IIHF, Spittin’ Chiclets Podcast, National Teams of Ice Hockey, and many others.

Overall, the tournament exceeded my expectations and was ran very professionally with some major sponsors onboard (Warrior Hockey and the Florida Panthers). Juan Carlos and the Amerigol Team did an amazing job bringing together 21 teams and 360 players to such an important development cup for Latin American teams and players. I would love to continue my involvement with this cup and can’t wait to see what next year brings!

Jamaica boosts Olympic hockey dreams with LATAM Cup championship

By William Douglas – NHL.com

R. Oliver Mair said some friends gave him puzzled looks when he told them that he planned to watch Jamaica play hockey over the weekend.

“When I made the announcement that Jamaica was going to play in hockey everybody was, like, ‘Who? Jamaica?'” said Mair, the Caribbean nation’s counsel general in Miami. “I mean, the [Jamaica Olympic] bobsled thing happened years ago but ice hockey, this is a surprise.”

Jamaica shocked the 2019 Amerigol LATAM Cup on Sunday by defeating defending champion Colombia 3-2 in a shootout at the Florida Panthers IceDen.

It feels unbelievable, we just made history,” said Jamaica forward Jaden Lindo, who was selected in the sixth round (No. 173) of the 2014 NHL Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. “This is something that Jamaica is never going to forget.”

Jamaica’s team was comprised of players, like Lindo, 23, who are of Jamaican lineage but live and play hockey in Canada and elsewhere.

Colombia also had its share of foreign-born players, including forward Michael Nijjar, a Los Angeles native who is a minority owner of the Vegas Golden Knights.

It also had a few elite players including Daniel Echeverri, a Medellin-born defenseman who scored Colombia’s first goal of the game in the second period. Echeverri, 29, appeared in 52 games for Macon of the Southern Professional Hockey League and Greenville of the ECHL in 2017-18.

Jamaica and Colombia, countries without ice rinks, were playing for a Cup — but each was also playing to prove a point.

Jamaica was trying to show that its effort to establish a hockey program to someday compete in the Winter Olympics is worthy of financial and fan support. Its roster had only one player who was born on the island. But the team earned a huge fan in Mair, who wore a yellow, green and black soccer jersey under his suit jacket as he watched the games Sunday.

“I’m super-impressed. They are dominating play, I’m so proud of them,” Mair said. “This is going to bring a lot of motivation, a lot of people are going to be inspired. I’m in awe of how well they are playing.”

The reaction to the team went from “Jamaica who?” to a prominently placed feature story Sunday in the Jamaica Observer, published in Kingston, about its tournament performance.

For Colombia, the tournament was about trying to solidify its place in the Latin American hockey hierarchy after it defeated a team from Mexico last year to win the inaugural Amerigol Cup. Colombia has also defeated Mexico, a country that does have ice rinks, at Pan American ice hockey tournaments.

“This really decides who the powerhouse in Latin America is,” Colombia coach Sam Uisprapassorn, a resident of Orange County, California, said of the Amerigol tournament. “Whether the team is affiliated with an International Ice Hockey Federation member or not, this is really setting the bar. You have a very, very strong program in Mexico. We’ve cemented our place in the Latin American hockey community, and then we have the up and comers, teams like Argentina and Brazil.”

Colombia didn’t leave the Amerigol Cup — which featured more than 400 players, 21 teams and four divisions — empty-handed. It won the tournament’s Under-16 division by defeating Argentina 3-1.

Falkland Islands team won the men’s Division II championship, defeating Puerto Rico 6-2. Argentina won the women’s title with a 4-2 victory against Colombia.

Jamaica Wins in International Ice Hockey Tournament Debut in South Florida

By Caribbean National Weekly

Playing in their first international ice-hockey international tournament at the Florida Panthers ice den located at 3299 Sportsplex drive in Coral Springs, Florida, Jamaica’s men ice-hockey team were convincing winners defeating Colombia 5 – 0 in their first game and later defeating Argentina 8 – 4.

For many people it may be difficult to associate Jamaica, a tropical nation, with ice-hockey; field hockey, yes, but ice-hockey? But on Friday the Jamaicans proved that they are a formidable, talented team on skates and on ice-making their debut in the Amerigil-Latam tournament.

In 2014, Jamaica was granted associate member status in the international ice hockey federation (IIHF), and since has developed a talented under-age 20 team which have been playing regularly in Canada.

Jamaica was invited to compete in the Amerigil-Latam tournament to play against Latin American countries at the senior men’s level. Jamaica is playing in the first division against Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, and Argentina.

Players of Jamaican citizenship and/or descent attended an evaluation camp in Toronto this spring. Players from Canada, USA, and the United Kingdom were evaluated vying for a position and a rare opportunity to represent Jamaica on the ice. Some of the young men from the under 20 team are included in the roster of the team playing in the South Florida tournament.

The Jamaicans will be up against Brazil at 3:00 pm on Saturday and according to tournament experts are favorites to win this game also.

Winter Games NZ: Ice Blacks beat Australia to snare historic series win in Queenstown

The Ice Blacks on Friday made history by recording back-to-back series wins against Australia for the first time

By Stuff

The New Zealand Ice blacks have won back-to-back series against rivals Australia for the first time. 

Piggybacking on their game one success at Winter Games NZ in Queenstown, the Kiwis beat the Aussies 5-3 on Friday night to snare the Trans-Tasman Challenge Cup.

With a series sweep on the cards, times certainly have changed since the Aussies recorded a world record 58-0 shellacking of the Kiwis in Perth in 1987.

Australia struck first in game two courtesy of an early loose-puck goal swept into the net by Patrick Nadin. However, the Ice Blacks weren’t down for long, as the dynamic top line duo of Liam Stewart and Matt Schneider combined for a gorgeous goal shortly thereafter.

New Zealand goaltender Csaba Kercso Magos left a few juicy rebounds lingering in the crease, and finally Australia were able to poke another over the goal line as Jonathan Bremner batted a quick goal in after a series of attempts.

The Roos were dominant for the remainder of the period, but all that possession time was for nothing as the final goal of the period was scored by the Ice Blacks.

Debutant Ondrej Kozak drifted into the offensive zone and patiently outwitted both his defender and goalkeeper Charlie Smart to dish the puck to Ben Gavoille. The horn blew with the score knotted up 2-2.

The second frame started with an early power play for Australia, and high-scoring skater Wahebe Darge combined with Kai Miettinen for the go-ahead goal, sending the Roos up 3-2.

New Zealand leapt on the opportunity to tie things up on the power play, however, with Matt Schneider scoring his second of the game down low on the man advantage.

The Ice Blacks weren’t done with their second-period scoring yet as Kozak and Gavoille combined for their second goal of the game, a beauty of a top-shelf goal that’s certainly going to make the rounds on the highlight reels.

The third period was shorter on goals but not on action, with tempers threatening to simmer over as both teams threw some big hits.

Australia got some power-play opportunity but weren’t able to convert. In fact, the only goal of the period came courtesy of Liam Stewart, who sailed into the Roos zone past all four defenders for a beautiful solo effort goal that put the Ice Blacks up 5-3.

Finnish Chilean plays ice-hockey in Miami

By Foreigners In Finland

Camilo Gaez, 40 years old, is representing Chile in Miami to play ice hockey. Chile’s national ice hockey team will participate in the Latam Cup, and according to Camilo, it’s the former Pan American Ice Hockey Tournament. The humble Finnish-born Latino player is playing in the leading annual international ice hockey competition for Latin America.

The future of ice hockey is the south says Juan Carlos Otero, the general manager of the University of Miami’s ice hockey team, in an interview at NHL.com. The Latam Cup originated in 2014 and it has grown since then, adding more groups and country members each year. Most of the Latin American countries will also be there: Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and the Falkland Islands. There are also hockey games for the seniors, ladies, youth 16s, and children 12s divisions.

He was born in Finland by Chilean parents who sought asylum. Since he was a young boy, he has always loved playing ice hockey and remains an enthusiastic winter sports fan. He participated in Red Bull Crash Ice a few years ago and made it to the finals. He has about 1200 supporters, most of them from Latin America. He joined the competition when he was already 36 years old and until today, he is one of the pioneer Latino representatives in the Crash Ice Competition.

This hot blood and chill Latino cannot only skate but also jump and crush some ice. He can also play ice hockey. So why should he not bring the championship to Chile?

Markham teen goalie set to stop pucks for Chile’s national hockey squad

James Vargas will join Chile’s men’s national team for the 2019 Amerigol Latam Cup hockey tournament starting Sept. 6. He is shown with goaltending coach Carson Bird of Carson Bird Goalie School

By John Cudmore – York Region

Countless Canadian kids grow up dreaming about representing their country on hockey’s international stage.

James Vargas might fall into that category, too.

But with Chilean ancestry, it would be difficult to find a reason for the Markham resident to dream about donning a hockey jersey on behalf of his father’s homeland.

Until now.

The 16-year-old goaltender is scheduled to fly Sept. 4 to Miami where he will join Chile’s national men’s hockey team to participate in the 2019 AmeriGol Latam Cup.

“No, actually, I didn’t know about it,” admits Vargas, a Grade 11 student at St. Augustine Catholic High School in Markham. “Hockey in South America is brand new. I don’t even know what calibre or style of play there will be. I’m going to have to figure it out when I get there.”

The Latam Cup tournament includes several Latin American national hockey teams competing in the weeklong event that concludes Sept. 7. The tournament also includes under-16 and women’s divisions.

Chile is scheduled to face off against Venezuela in its opening game on Sept. 6.

A former member of the Markham Waxers, Vargas plays for the Don Mills Flyers midgets in the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

A coach from a Montreal team connected to the Chilean program saw Vargas play last season. He approached his father, Javier, with an offer to consider playing for the under-18 Chilean team.

That team failed to materialize, but he was invited to join the senior men’s squad.

“It didn’t take long … about a minute,” Vargas said of his decision to accept. “I’m a little bit nervous, being so young and excited, too.

“It’s my first time to play hockey on an international stage. It’ll be interesting to see what comes to the table.”

He is qualified to play, through his father, who left Chile for North America as a nine-year-old.

The Latam Cup is being contested at the NHL Florida Panthers’ Ice Den in Coral Springs.

Known more for in-line hockey, Chile is an affiliate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation. Chile made its international debut in 2017.

Hockey in Puerto Rico: a story of triumph, destruction and a new beginning

New York Rangers and Florida Panthers square off in Puerto Rico in 2006 (Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Hockey News

Destruction. Political interference. You name it, Puerto Rico has faced it. After years of having to use flip flops for goal posts, the territory is set to embark on its first international hockey tournament, something many never thought would happen. This is the story of hockey in Puerto Rico.

Outlaws.

That’s the best way to describe Philip Painter and the Puerto Rican hockey team. Sneaking into arenas just to play a disorganized version of their favorite sport, only to have it all taken away by outside ruling parties.

But it wasn’t always this way.

During the closing stages of the 2006 NHL pre-season, San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital, played host to a game between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. It was the first NHL game played in the Caribbean and what should have been the start of a beautiful partnership between the NHL and the American territory. The game came a year after the grand opening of the 18,500-seat Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum, something that was set to kick off hockey in the area after years of organization.

It flopped. It didn’t help that the game was during the slowest tourism season in September, but poor promotion of the event led to poor attendance which is estimated to have been around 5,000 patrons.

“The government had to bus in children from local housing projects, just to have bodies in the building,” said Phillip Painter, the director of hockey in Puerto Rico and the man in charge of growing the sport locally.

It was supposed to be something special for an area that had been through so much just to make it happen. Early hockey action began on the island more than 40 years ago in a rink known as the Reina de Hielo in San Juan. In 1978, the rink shut down, so locals had to wait until the Aguadilla Ice Skating Arena opened up in 2004 to try again. Using a machine that he said looked more like a cross between a Zamboni and a golf cart, the arena would finally become reality. Thousands of people came to the opening day festivities. It truly looked like the sport could see some success on the island. Ex-pats showed up from North America looking for a chance to play abroad.

The NHL’s failure to capitalize in Puerto Rico resulted in no hockey being played in the main coliseum. Players had to travel three hours outside of San Juan just to play in Aguadilla. But as time went on, operations began to go downhill. The local government relocated skating programs to other areas or shut them down altogether. Hockey players began sneaking into the rink just to play in the middle of the night with makeshift equipment, but when the nets were thrown out, they resorted to using flip flops for posts and other equipment just to get a taste of the action.

The Coliseo De Puerto Rico, home of Puerto Rico’s lone NHL pre-season game. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

The federation tried talking to the NHL, NHL Players’ Association, USA Hockey and Scotiabank, among others, to help look for support. Nothing came from it, rendering all progress idle. The federation would make some requests to the Puerto Rican Olympic Committee and the Department of Sports and Recreation about the state of the sport, but the appeals went unnoticed. Meanwhile, there were still a lot of people sending inquiries to the Puerto Rican hockey website about hosting games and tournaments, all of which were impossible. The dream of building hockey in the Tropics looked unlikely.

“‘Diversity’ seemed to be the buzzword of the day, yet an entire continent was being ignored,” Painter said. “We don’t need licensed merchandise. We needed rinks and instruction, support and everything needed to create a true hockey environment. The rest will fall into place in good time.”

Philip Painter’s goalie cut Puerto Rico jersey

In 2011, the Panthers offered to run youth hockey camps in the territory, but the Puerto Rican government wouldn’t allow the team to book any ice time in Aguadilla. The Panthers still offered to help out, operating a street-hockey clinic for a couple of years. In 2013, fed up with the lack of support from the government, Puerto Rico sent a team out to Argentina to participate in the End of the World Cup, a small tournament involving other new hockey nations. Puerto Rico could only field a team of seven players, and with no ice to play back home (despite having the biggest arena of any of the countries involved), the team was a shell of what truly could have been something impactful. Hockey in Puerto Rico is completely self-funded by the players themselves, meaning every dollar counts when trying to rebuild a program on a limited budget.

But the introduction of sledge hockey in early 2017 provided hope. Maybe hockey could work, albeit in a different fashion than originally planned. The demonstration put on by the program was a success, and there’s a true interest in growing the niche sport there. But later that summer, thousands of lives were lost due to Hurricane Maria, and the territory continues to feel the devastation of the storm today. The rink in Aguadilla was used as an emergency center with extra supplies, water, food and more. But the arena suffered significant damage itself after battling winds upwards of 200 MPH, making further growth more challenging. Communication was limited for a while; Painter himself was left without power for five months.

Since then, it’s all been about rebuilding. Painter, a reporter at the San Juan Daily Star, has been in charge of bringing the rink in Aguadilla back to life. With the help of Ron Robichaud from the Florida Sled Hockey Association, the rink received new regulation boards, glass and dressing rooms. The one thing Puerto Rico has going for them is an actual rink, even though the one in Aguadilla isn’t an NHL- or IIHF-sized building. Haiti and Jamaica, for example, have played in tournaments in North America but don’t have rinks back home.

Jazmine Miley

For Puerto Rico, it’s been a long road, but the hard work is about to pay off.
When it plays Argentina on Sept. 6 in Coral Springs, Fla., at the Latam Cup, it’ll mark the first time Puerto Rico has ever played in an international tournament. The Latam Cup, previously known as the Pan-American Ice Hockey Games, serves as a development platform for nations new to hockey to grow. Colombia has been the dominant force for most of the tournament’s existence, with Mexico, Argentina and Brazil all contending at one point or another. Jamaica and the Falkland Islands will also have players making their international tournament debuts this weekend. All games will be streamed for free on HockeyTV.com, which Painter said will be huge. “Every sports bar (in Puerto Rico) will be tuned in.”

Puerto Rico, fortunately, missed the brunt of Hurricane Dorian, but members of other nations weren’t so lucky. Some players had flights cancelled, and some early practice sessions were cancelled. Most of Dorian’s path will miss Miami, allowing the Latam Cup to operate, but it seems like terrible storms follow Puerto Rico’s hockey dreams everywhere.

No NHLer has ever been born in Puerto Rico, but Auston Matthews, Al Montoya, Scott Gomez and Max Pacioretty, among others, are of Latin American descent. S0me of Puerto Rico’s players for the Latam Cup have experience playing in Canada and the United States, and some even have college hockey experience.

“We followed IOC (International Olympic Committee) guidelines and were able to recruit stateside Puerto Ricans eager to represent our country,” Painter said. “I was surprised at the skill level of players. Although we haven’t had the chance to gel as a squad yet, I have no doubt we will prove strong enough to match up against anyone in our division.”

With more than 100 registered hockey players in Puerto Rico, the rebirth is in full swing. When the tournament concludes, the plan is to begin the final renovations to the rink. It’ll be utilized for a youth program and an adult 3-on-3 league, with players from Canada and United States showing interest. Just partaking in the Latam Cup is a step in the right direction for Puerto Rico, but there’s a lot of work still left to be done. Painter is determined to make hockey work in Puerto Rico and hopes to host the Latam Cup in the future.

The territory had to literally overcome destruction to get to where they are today. Any momentum Puerto Rico acquired over time was quickly terminated due to outside sources. For now, the team enters as underdogs in the second division – the ‘Bad News Bears,’ as Painter describes. But the only thing that truly matters is that Puerto Rico has finally arrived on the world stage

LATAM Cup highlights growth of hockey in Latin America

By William Douglas NHL.com

Tournament at Panthers practice rink attracts 400 players from nine countries

When hockey enthusiast Juan Carlos Otero first approached Florida Panthers IceDen general manager Keith Fine about hosting a Latin American tournament at the rink, he vowed that it would quickly grow into something big.

“Was I surprised? Yes and no,” Fine said. “If you talk to Juan Carlos for two seconds you see how passionate he is and he won’t stop at anything to grow the game, especially in the Latin American and Caribbean community.”

Otero’s vision will be on display this weekend at the second annual Amerigol LATAM Cup, a three-day tournament that begins Friday and ends Sunday at the Panthers practice facility in Coral Springs.

The tournament has grown in its second year: 21 men’s and women’s teams competing in four divisions with more than 400 players of varying skill levels from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Falkland Islands, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United States and Venezuela.

Last year’s inaugural tournament featured five countries and 90 men’s players in one division. This year’s tournament, which includes a four-team women’s bracket, an Under-16 division and two men’s divisions, is a great way to showcase Latin American hockey talent and promote the sport in a state that has a population 23.2 percent Hispanic, Otero said.

“If you want the game to grow, if you want the Latins to follow and the Hispanics to be behind the NHL in 20 years, you got to have more ‘Hernandez,’ ‘Fernandez’ and ‘Gomez’ on the back of jerseys that they can follow,” said Otero, who has been general manager of the University of Miami’s American Collegiate Hockey Association team since 2014. “Everything that hockey has and is – – the action, the speed, the dedication – – that’s part of the DNA of the Latin community. It’s a definite fit with the Latin community.”

Hispanics are making significant inroads in the NHL, on and off the ice. Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, who is Mexican-American and was raised in Arizona, is the cover athlete for EA Sports NHL 20 video game and had the top-selling jersey on the Fanatics network of ecommerce sites, including Shop.NHL.com, NHLShop.ca and Fanatics.com, during the 2017-18 season. He had the third best-selling jersey last season.

Alex Meruelo, a Cuban-American businessman, took over as majority owner of the Arizona Coyotes in July, becoming the first and only Hispanic owner in the NHL. In August, the Minnesota Wild hired U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Bill Guerin, who has Nicaraguan roots, as its general manger. 

Panthers officials hoping that this year’s LATAM Cup will help boost interest in hockey within South Florida’s Hispanic community and increase the team’s fan base.

They noticed how last year’s tournament packed the IceDen largely with Hispanic spectators who brought vuvuzelas and a World Cup soccer enthusiasm to root for their country’s team. They ‘re expecting an even livelier crowd this weekend.

“Everything that we try to do with the Panthers, whether it’s ‘Learn to Play’ or getting more kids involved, all the programs that we provide, there’s still this kind of gap to bridge to get more people playing the sport in communities that wouldn’t normally play,” Fine said. “And this [tournament] was the perfect avenue for us to find that Hispanic, Latin population. The biggest challenge for us is now we can get them to the facility, now once they’re here and they see a game, let’s get them to the next step: Let’s put a stick in a kid’s hands and skates on their feet, get them to a [Panthers] game and maybe that will help grow the game at those younger populations where they wouldn’t normally have the chance to.”

Growth and promotion are also the goals of the teams participating in the tournament. They’re out to prove to their countries and the world that hockey isn’t just a North American or European game.

Colombia, last year’s LATAM Cup champion, will have four teams and 50 players (about 20 are U.S. residents of Colombian heritage) at this year’s tournament despite being a country without an indoor or outdoor rink suitable for hockey.

Most of the Colombian players are inline hockey payers. They arrived in Florida days ahead of the tournament to hold a few practices on ice to acclimate themselves from wheels to steel blades.

“The transition is not that easy,” said Daniel Fierro, a Colombian defenseman and a team spokesman. “But we have been able to show the potential hockey players have in Colombia, the results that we have been obtaining, to show that Colombia is champion of Latin America.”

Fierro said the most popular NHL players in his country are Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby, Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin, and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Pat Maroon.

Maroon, who played for the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues last season, is a hero because he grew up playing inline and was a member of the 2010 U.S. men’s national inline hockey team.

“Now that he won the Stanley Cup, everyone is happy about that,” Fierro said. “He goes to international inline hockey tournaments so many kids have a chance to meet him, to get to know him. He’s been a huge impact for roller hockey players who want to play ice and grow in the sport. The ultimate goal for an inline player is to be an ice hockey player and be famous.”

Jamaica, which also doesn’t have an ice rink, is using its first LATAM Cup appearance as another step in the Caribbean Island’s effort to build a national team that can someday compete in the Winter Olympics, like the country’s bobsled team has. 

“I like the flavor and what they’re trying to do,” Lester Griffin, general manager of a Jamaican team comprised mostly of players of Jamaican heritage who live in Canada, said of the tournament. “That’s to bring attention to all the country and the world to say hockey is really spreading.”

The lack of ice in Brazil hasn’t stopped 36 players and two teams from making their way to Florida for the tournament. While Brazil and the other teams plan to compete for a division championship, they have a friendly bond.

“Amerigol played a huge role in uniting many different teams that undergo the same difficulties and share the love for the sport so we can learn from each other,” said Henrique Degani, a spokesman for the Brazilian team. “We do crazy things for love. I like to think that hockey, although it may sound crazy, is a healthy thing to do for love.”

Liam Stewart magic helps Ice Blacks take the win in first round of Aussie series

Liam Stewart made his debut in the New Zealand Ice Blacks jersey against Australia in Queenstown, on his 25th birthday

By Stuff

A touch of Liam Stewart magic secured an Ice Blacks win in the first match of a three-game ice hockey series against Australia’s Mighty Roos, in Queenstown.

With only 90 seconds to go and the kiwis ahead by one goal deep in the Australian zone, the Roos called time and replaced their goalie with a sixth player in the hope of securing a draw.

But every minute is a long minute in ice hockey and as the battle around the goal intensified, the Ice Blacks pulled the puck far enough out for Stewart to wrangle possession and flick it to Jordan Challis to take the easy goal

The 6-4 win brought the crowd to their feet and provided a bonus for Stewart, the son of kiwi supermodel Rachel Hunter and rocker Rod Stewart, who was wearing the black jersey for the first time – and on his 25th birthday

Ice Blacks captain Nick Craig said Stewart had had a cracking debut, despite unlucky misses on several goal attempts, including a couple of occasions when the puck hit the posts.

Forward Matthew Schneider was a stand out player in the Ice Blacks scoring two goals against the Australians

“You could see he had wheels on out there.

“He was driving hard down the boards and I think he picked up a couple of points on the assist as well…he had a huge game on his debut.”

Stewart has previously represented Great Britain in the international arena and has been in prolific form for New Zealand Ice Hockey League frontrunners Queenstown Stampede, scoring a competition-best 18 goals during the regular season.

Thursday night’s game was the first in a three-match series dubbed Ice Hockey’s “Bledisloe Cup”.

It is the third year the competition has run as part of the Winter Games NZ, with the Australians and New Zealanders each having won a series previously.

Ice Blacks team manager Ross Burns said the Australians, who are one division higher than the kiwis in the world rankings, had brought a competitive team with them.

“They lost last year and they didn’t like that,” he said.

It was a unique opportunity for the New Zealanders to play some stronger competition as they aimed to climb a division at next year’s World Champs in Iceland.

“We’ve been in the same division for the last six years. It’s time.” 

Craig said Thursday night’s match was a great start.

“It felt really good. We’ve only come together last night as a team with one training but we’ve got a few veterans back in the squad and a few newbies and we just put it all together tonight.”

The defencemen worked hard under unrelenting Australian pressure and the forwards played some fantastic offence with great passing and goals, he said.

Another highlight for the team was having Sky broadcast the series live for the first time, he said.

“The more exposure we get, the more opportunity for people to see us play and in turn more sponsorship on board.

“It is a tough sport to play in New Zealand – a minority sport and we pay a lot of money for the ice fees and our gear is quite expensive.”

Burns said it cost players between $4000 and $5000 each to represent New Zealand at a World Cup.

The series continues on Friday and Saturday nights at Queenstown Ice Arena.

They will be broadcast live on Sky Sport 9 from 6.50pm.

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