Category: North America (page 1 of 12)

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.

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.”

Rebooting World Cup to be part of NHL labor talks

By Associated Press

With labor talks having already begun on an informal basis, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and union chief Don Fehr are in favor of rebooting the World Cup of Hockey tournament and holding it every four years.

The stumbling block to laying out a long-term calendar of international competition, however, revolves around the hot-button topic of the NHL competing at the Winter Olympics after skipping out on South Korea last year.

“One of the things I hope we will have is an agreement to establish the long-term schedule for international events which would include World Cups of Hockey,” said Fehr, stressing the plural “Cups” during an interview with The Associated Press at the league’s draft festivities in Vancouver, British Columbia, this past weekend. “That’s a stand-alone event. It should not be seen as competing with or replacing the Olympics. It can be done.”

Bettman is on board when it comes to the World Cup.

“We think that’s a great event and it’s something we’ve been trying to work out for more than two years,” he said. “We’re all in favor of setting an international calendar, and it takes two to tango, so to speak.”

There’s a caveat, of course, and the reason why the two sides aren’t tangoing just yet.

“We think the World Cup of Hockey can be a wonderful event, particularly if we don’t go to the Olympics,” Bettman said.

Though resolving a way to reduce the percentage of players’ salaries being held back annually in an escrow fund is the NHL Players’ Association’s most pressing concern with the collective bargaining agreement, international competition is also on the list. And that’s where the World Cup — revived in 2016 — and Olympic Games participation will play a role once formal negotiations begin this summer leading up to September deadlines in which either side can choose to opt out and terminate the current CBA by the fall of 2020.

The owners have until Sept. 1 and players on Sept. 15 to reach their decisions and set the clock ticking toward another potential work stoppage.

“There have been a series of discussions. I don’t think I would call them formal negotiations yet,” Fehr said. “And if your next question’s going to be how it’s going to end up, I’m going to tell you, ask me in the middle of August because I don’t know yet.”

Players are unhappy with the league’s decision to skip the most recent Winter Games after having participated in the previous five. Shutting down the regular season for two weeks is an issue for owners, as was the time difference regarding South Korea, with games being played in the early morning for North American audiences.

The union sides with the league involving other issues regarding Olympic participation such as players’ medical insurance coverage and marketing rights. None of those apply when it comes to the World Cup because it’s jointly controlled by the league and union, with both sides splitting the revenue.

The World Cup’s return was greeted with a tremendous amount of fanfare when Bettman and Fehr shared the podium at the 2015 All-Star game festivities in Columbus, Ohio, to announce the eight-team event would be held in Toronto the following year.

There was even discussion — but no resolution — of having it held every four years. The World Cup was previously played in 1996 and 2004, and succeeded the Canada Cup, which was held five times from 1976-91.

Speaking only for himself and not the union, Fehr said he would prefer the NHL compete at the Olympics and then have the World Cup held every four years — with two years separating the events.

“If it was up to me, I’d do it all sooner rather than later, but we’ll see,” Fehr said. “The question is, can we get the agreement on all the intervening pieces.”

Fehr noted the union and NHL can’t resolve the Olympic participation question alone in labor talks because outstanding issues must also be negotiated with the International Ice Hockey Federation and International Olympic Committee.

Bettman doesn’t see why the two sides can’t reach a deal on the World Cup, given they’re both in favor.

“Yes, so it should get done,” Bettman said. “We’re going to ultimately come together and figure out something that everybody’s comfortable with.”

U.S., Mexico to bring historic rivalry to the ice rink in El Paso

El Paso Rhinos win championship,
earn fourth Thorne Cup

By Patrick Chalvire – KFox 14

It’s U.S. vs. Mexico on the ice!

For the first time in history, Mexico’s national junior ice hockey team will take on the national Western States Hockey League Thorne Cup Champion El Paso Rhinos in a historic border battle in the ice rink, and it will all take place in El Paso, officials announced today.

The official U-20 Mexican National Team will visit the Sun City to face off with the Rhinos for a special two-game exhibition series at 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, and 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, at the El Paso County Coliseum Events Center, 4100 E. Paisano. The Rhinos will be wearing special El Paso-themed jerseys that will be auctioned off, along with Mexico’s team jerseys, following the games. Tickets will start at $5, plus fees, and will be available, beginning Sept. 1, at the Coliseum Box Office, all Ticketmaster outlets, by phone at 800-7453000 and online at ticketmaster.com.

This series will be the first of its kind. No other junior hockey team in the United States has played a team comprised of Mexico’s top players.

“Any time you can play a national team representing their country, it is a huge deal,” said Cory Herman, head coach of the Rhinos. “They compete at the World Junior Championships every year, and it is exciting for our organization that they chose us to play.”

The IIHF Ice Hockey World Junior Championship is an annual event organized by the International Ice Hockey Federation for national under-20 ice hockey teams, which feature some of the best players from around the world.

The four-time Thorne Cup champion Rhinos (2008, 2014, 2018, 2019) will officially kick off the new season on Saturday, Sept. 21, with their annual Black and Orange Game.

Jamaica creates int’l Ice Hockey Congress buzz

Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation director Don Anderson (right) with International Ice Hockey Federation president Rene Fasel at the global body’s annual congress in Slovakia recently

By The Gleaner

The Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation (JOIHF) has received the backing of several countries that want to see the development of the sport, including the creation of a skating rink on the island. This was at the annual congress of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), held in Slovakia. Jamaica, represented by JOIHF director Don Anderson and national coach E.J. Phillips, participated in the event for the first time.

Excitement and Interest

The JOIHF says that the two-man delegation created what it describes as a “considerable degree of excitement and interest” from their presence and says they were very well received. The federation says that the interest was also a result of Jamaica’s participation in the bobsled event at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Canada.

Coming out of the congress, a group of the associate members, those without an ice rink at this time, formed an organisation to lobby more effectively with the IIHF. These countries are, in addition to Jamaica, Ireland, Portugal, Argentina, Macedonia, and Andorra. The congress coincided with the 16-nation Men’s World Championship, which was won by Finland.

The JOIHF says that it is now in dialogue with a number of companies that have built and maintained ice rinks in climates similar to Jamaica’s.

French newcomer Texier making a splash with Blue Jackets

By Mitch Stacy – The Associated Press

Fortunately for the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team called KalPa in the Finnish hockey league completed its season last month well below the line to make the playoffs.

Alexandre Texier, a 19-year-old centre, scored in overtime to win KalPa’s finale on March 14 . Then he packed up and headed to North America, making his continental debut with the Blue Jackets’ top farm team two days after he stepped off the ice in Finland. The stay in the minors would be brief.

Last Friday, Texier, who is from Grenoble, France, made his NHL debut in a playoff-clinching win by Columbus at Madison Square Garden in New York with his parents in attendance. A day later in Ottawa, he scored his first goal , collecting a pass from Oliver Bjorkstrand in full stride and ripping it in like an NHL veteran.

Texier has impressed everyone who matters. He insisted he is not nervous even the slightest bit, even though the spotlight will get much hotter when Columbus opens the playoffs on Wednesday night at Tampa against the league’s best team.

It’s been a whirlwind for the kid who was a Blue Jackets’ second-round draft pick (45th overall) two years ago .

“No, to be honest, never,” Texier said when asked if he thought he’d be in the NHL right now. “You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow, so just enjoy the time here.”

Texier did not come out of nowhere. Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen has been watching him and talking about him since Texier came under the team’s umbrella two years ago. He was one of three prospects the GM deemed untouchable at the trade deadline.

The Blue Jackets couldn’t get him here fast enough. After leading KalPa in assists, points and shots, he tore it up in Cleveland with the Monsters, collecting five goals and two assists in seven games. Then came his high-pressure NHL debut Friday in which he handled himself admirably.

“He’s not nervous,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “In fact, he plays with a type of arrogance that for the age of the kid it’s pretty impressive. You can see his intelligence of the game, he’s physical when he needs to be, he’s engaged on pucks. He’s impressive, and he’ll play (in the playoffs).”

Blue Jackets centre Pierre Luc-Dubois knows something about being a hockey prodigy. He debuted in the NHL at 19 last season and turned into one of the team’s stars. He’s also from Quebec, so he can speak French and communicate with “Tex” better than his other teammates.

And talk about a small world: They discovered their fathers played together for a season in Canadian junior hockey years ago.

“He’s really smart, skilled,” Dubois said. “He’s one of those players that you can you just see plays with his instincts, doesn’t think about the game too much, just goes out there and has fun.”

Texier, who seems to have adapted seamlessly to the different rink dimensions in North America, likely will play with Bjorkstrand and Nick Foligno on the fourth line, although Tortorella is known for mixing things up.

“It was a bonus for me (to join the Blue Jackets) because they are a pretty good team and they want to make the playoffs, so I didn’t expect anything,” Texier said.

Tortorella said he’s not hesitant about throwing Texier into the playoffs, regardless of his tender age and lack of experience.

“This kid here, I just think he had an attitude that he’s not afraid of anything,” Tortorella said.

A Mexican Hockey Player Looks for a Place to Lace Up His Skates

Hector, a star forward for the Mexican national team, plays for Hockey Punks of the largely unknown Lithuanian pro league

By Tal Pinchevsky New York Times

After being deported from the United States as a collegian, Hector Majul has bounced around, most recently landing in Lithuania.

Perhaps the only thing more unusual than being a Mexican in Lithuania is being a Mexican hockey player in Lithuania.

So the general astonishment that has greeted Hector Majul since his arrival in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, in late November does not surprise him.

At 24, he is a forward for the Hockey Punks, one of four teams in the country’s largely unknown professional league. That move was another unforeseen step on an unconventional hockey path, which shifted when Majul was deported to Mexico during his college career in the United States.

“He is an impressive skater,” said Boris Dorozhenko, Majul’s childhood coach and mentor. “The only problem for him was always his Mexican citizenship.”

Like a growing number of international athletes who want to pursue careers in the United States, Majul found that his immigration status — and what some view as suddenly stringent enforcement of technicalities — had become a major impediment.

In a country that has long tried to attract athletes and artists with special talents, what once appeared to be a fairly clear path to at least semi-permanent residency has become a far more arduous road. The possibility of deportation can arise with just one unsatisfactory answer to an immigration official, whether spoken or written on a form.

In Majul’s case, an incorrect response a year and a half ago led to a dizzying journey back to Mexico, then on to Switzerland and now to Lithuania, with no promise of a return to the United States in the near future.

Dorozhenko, who played hockey in the former Soviet Union, discovered a 6-year-old Majul in Mexico City after becoming a coach with the Mexican national program in the early 1990s.

Dorozhenko eventually landed a hockey job in Arizona, and Majul, 14 at the time, followed him. Because he was attending high school, Majul entered the United States with a student visa, then became a fixture at hockey clinics in the area, alongside a local standout named Auston Matthews. Drafted first over all by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2016, Matthews is now among the N.H.L.’s brightest stars.

Majul was allowed to stay in the United States after high school, first on an amateur athlete visa, known as a P1, then on another student visa when he landed at Curry College in Massachusetts to play Division III hockey in 2015.

By then he was a star for Mexico in international competition. In his first appearance in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Division II Group B world championship tournament in 2014, he tied for the team’s scoring lead and helped Mexico finish one win shy of promotion to a higher division. He was named the tournament’s top forward in 2015 and again in 2016.

“I know there have been professional players that have Mexican descent or Mexican parents,” Majul said, referring specifically to the N.H.L. (Matthews’s mother is from Mexico.) “But there has never been a Mexican-born pro hockey player. I want to be that guy.”

Majul, second from right, with his Hockey Punk teammates before the start of practice last month

But on Aug. 22, 2017, as Majul returned to the United States from a trip home to see family, Customs and Border Protection officials at William P. Hobby Airport in Houston discovered a makeup box belonging to his girlfriend, Katy Weizman. An American, Weizman had accompanied Majul on the trip and returned to the United States the previous week. The makeup kit contained a week’s supply of Concerta, her A.D.H.D. medication and a controlled substance.

Majul said that the Houston Police Department had declined to further investigate his possession of the drug, but that he was detained and questioned that night and into the morning. According to an appeal filed by his lawyer, Majul told a customs agent that he had left Mexico “to pursue a career in ice hockey.”

Based on this admission, Majul was found to have expressed an intention to violate the terms of his student visa. The visa was canceled, and he was deported after almost a decade of legally living and training in the United States.

When contacted about this case, the Customs and Border Protection agency said in a statement that officers had found that Majul “provided differing answers when asked about his trip to the U.S. and the reason he departed his country of origin.”

Majul’s lawyer submitted an appeal in September 2017, saying the officers had overreached in their decision. The appeal was denied.

Marian Daugherty, who took Majul into her home when he first moved to the United States, set up a “Bring Hector Back” Facebook page and reached out to the office of then-Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, to no avail.

Majul was left to train in Mexico City, unable to return to the United States until 2022 and without the services of an agent. But with only 1,552 registered hockey players in Mexico, compared with more than 562,000 in the United States, Majul knew he would need to go elsewhere to keep up his game.

Majul and Dorozhenko canvassed their hockey network. Their search drew the attention of Arno Del Curto, who for 22 years had led the Davos hockey club in Switzerland. Equipped with a 90-day tourist visa, Majul ventured to Switzerland. Within three weeks, he was told that the team wanted him to stay.

“It was a huge relief,” Majul said. “I’m going to be honest, I think I teared up a little bit when I talked to my parents.”

But immigration would again become a hurdle. To qualify for certification, Majul needed to have been considered a professional before arriving in Switzerland. Because he had most recently played competitive hockey in college and with the Mexican national team, he was deemed an amateur and denied a visa. The club in Davos appealed to the Swiss government, even offering to hire Majul as a skills coach in the hopes that might provide a legal workaround.

By November, with only five days remaining on his tourist visa and all his options exhausted, Majul went to train with a coach and former colleague of Dorozhenko’s in Serbia. Days later, he received an invitation to join Hockey Punks.

The Lithuanian club signed Majul to a contract, provided an apartment in Vilnius and helped him stabilize his immigration status. In perhaps the most unexpected turn of this hockey escapade, Majul is not the only Mexican on the team. His countryman Arunas Bermejo joined the club while studying in Lithuania.

“It’s a steppingstone, something to help me get to the next level,” Majul said. “Usually when people say they’re going to Europe, nobody thinks of Lithuania or Vilnius.”

He acknowledged that the transition to life in Vilnius was difficult, especially considering the abrupt nature of his arrival. But he has come to enjoy his new surroundings.

“It’s actually a really nice town,” Majul said. “Great food, people are very friendly. I think the only downside is how cold it is.”

The average high temperature in Vilnius in February is 30 degrees — not frigid, unless your reference points are Mexico and Arizona.

Majul has been approved for worker certification that for the next year or two will allow him to work within the Schengen Area, a region of 26 European nations, including Switzerland. That would make it easier for Majul to rejoin Davos for the 2019-20 season. (That hope was muddled when Del Curto announced his resignation in November.)

Daugherty helped Majul enroll in online classes through Arizona State University, and he is working to complete his degree.

In his first professional game, on Dec. 22, a 5-2 loss to Kaunas, Majul registered an assist. In his first eight games with the club, Majul collected a goal and six assists. He has not given up on his pro hockey dreams, including a potential return to the United States.

“I think in North America I have this label of, ‘Why is a Mexican playing hockey? He should be playing soccer,’” Majul said. “Don’t get me wrong. Here it’s also a shock when they hear there’s a Mexican hockey player. But after they see me playing, they see the level that I have, it kind of speaks for itself.”

“I think that was maybe the way it had to go,” he added. “Maybe for me to be able to go on to the next level, I had to come and make it through here first.”

Seattle NHL expansion approved by Board of Governors

seattle becomes 32nd team; will begin play in 2021-22 season

By Dan Rosen – NHL.com

Seattle is home to the NHL’s 32nd franchise.

The NHL Board of Governors voted Tuesday to approve the expansion application from the NHL Seattle group to bring the yet-to-be-named team into the League for the start of the 2021-22 season.

In addition, the Board of Governors approved a realignment package that calls for the Arizona Coyotes to move into the Central Division, making way for the new Seattle team to play in the Pacific Division.

There are eight teams in the Pacific Division, including the Coyotes. There are seven teams in the Central Division.

The Coyotes will remain in the Pacific Division until Seattle enters the League.

Seattle’s ownership group, led by David Bonderman, private equity CEO, will pay a $650 million expansion fee, $150 million more than Bill Foley and his group paid to bring the Vegas Golden Knights into the NHL for the 2017-18 season.

The Seattle team will play at Seattle Center Arena, the former KeyArena which is scheduled to undergo a privately financed $700 million renovation. The project was waiting for NHL approval of the expansion team before it could begin. The capacity for an NHL game at KeyArena will be about 17,400.

KeyArena opened in 1962 and was the home of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics from 1967-78 and 1985-2008 prior to them relocating to Oklahoma City for the 2008-09 season.

The ownership group is also scheduled to pay approximately $75 million to build a 180,000-square foot practice facility with three ice sheets in Northgate, a shopping area in the northern part of the city.

The arena and training facility are scheduled to be completed in advance of the start of the 2021-22 season.

The Seattle ownership group was hopeful to have the 2020-21 season be its inaugural season, but beginning in the 2021-22 season allows for completion of arena renovations.

Seattle will follow follow the same rules for the 2021 Expansion Draft as Vegas did in 2017, but Vegas will be exempt.

The NHL authorized the Seattle ownership group to file an application for an expansion team at the Board of Governors meeting in Manalapan, Florida a year ago.

A season-ticket deposit drive was held March 1, securing 10,000 deposits in the first 12 minutes and 32,000 in the first 31 hours. There is a waiting list of about 10,000 names.

The NHL Seattle group presented its plan for the franchise the Board’s Executive Committee at its meeting in New York City on Oct. 2. The committee gave a report in the Board meeting Tuesday prior to the vote.

Although Seattle has never had an NHL team, the Seattle Metropolitans, who played in the Pacific Coast Hockey Association from 1915-24, won the Stanley Cup in 1917, defeating the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey Association 3-1 in a best-of-5 series.

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