Day: July 29, 2017

Calgarian who brought hockey to Costa Rica honoured

By Bill Kaufmann – Calgary Sun

Twenty years after he brought hockey to Central America from his Calgary hometown, the fruits of Bruce Callow’s passion for the game has been recognized by the sport’s shrine.

A crimson jersey worn by his Costa Rican-born son Anthony, a player with that country’s El Castillo Knights is set to be hoisted at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

For former Brentwood resident and Sir Winston Churchill high school graduate Callow, it’s a fitting score to mark two decades in a land better known for steamy jungles, volcanoes and basking iguanas.

And the hall of fame exhibit also reflects the increasing entrenchment of the sport in a region where it remains a novelty.

“We feel great because we’re basically celebrating 20 years of ice hockey here and we’re moving beyond survival,” said Callow, a musician and music teacher who’s lived in Costa Rica since 1992.

The teams, based in the Costa Rican town of Heradia, has also sent the hall souvenir pucks and calendars for a possible exhibit.

They’re mementos of an odyssey that began on plastic “ice,” whose unlikely existence even caught the attention of a hockey-crazy Canadian prime minister and became a weapon of hockey diplomacy at the ambassadorial level.

Bruce Callow. File photo

In 1996, four years into his new life in Costa Rica, Callow became homesick for hockey.

He’d married a local woman and had two sons to whom he wanted to impart that beloved element of his Canadian identity.

“You’d think being in the tropics would cure everything, but it doesn’t cure your urge for hockey,” he said.

The quest for a permanent hockey presence began in the humblest of surroundings — the middle of a shopping mall’s food court.

Skaters of the embryonic movement took to a plastic surface, or “viking ice” made of tiles clad in a silicon liquid.

“Maintaining it got to be a problem,” he said, adding the faux freeze didn’t impress many prospective players.

“You had to sharpen your skates all the time because it dulls them more quickly.”

Nevertheless, the arrangement had an inescapable Canadian flavour: rink boards clad in the Maple Leaf were assembled by a Canadian handyman while the effort was sponsored by a local rock radio station owned by a native of the Great White North.

It drew the startled curiosity of the locals whose idea of a goalie was a soccer netminder, said Callow.

“Kids were watching from the sides saying ‘what’s that?'” he said.

“For the kids learning to skate, it had never been done before, but they were enthusiastic.”

And it wasn’t long before the slowly-growing group which had dubbed themselves Mundo de Hockey, or hockey world, secured real ice at a pleasure rink at the Castillo Country Club.

Callow made a decision to train in the sport’s international style, which emphasizes skill over brute strength, something more palatable to Costa Ricans with an affinity for soccer.

“Their hand-to-foot coordination is superior to Canadians’,” said Callow in 2000.

Eliana Vasco Correa’s son and daughter caught the hockey bug in 2016, quickly pulling their mother into it.

“A couple of weeks later I gave it a try, and loved it,” said Correa, 35, who initial perception of the sport softened.

“When I first saw it, it was a tough and dangerous sport but once I started playing, I found out I was wrong — I felt very safe with all the protective gear.”

Though hockey’s long found traction in hot weather markets like Arizon and Florida, Correa said it remains an odd fit in Central America.

“It’s quite strange in such a tropical climate, but that is part of its charm,” she said.

Since the program’s inception, voyages to the sport’s mother country for sustenance of various types have become essential.

In 2000, the Calgary Flames anted up 20 helmets for their tropical understudies while local sporting good stores followed suit with other equipment.

A year later, the National Hockey League Players’ Association came through with 34 new sets of gear.

“We wouldn’t have gotten here if it hadn’t been for them,” Callow said of the donors.

In the summer of 2011, a particularly promising Costa Rican prospect, David Vargas, got the call from Penticton’s Okanagan Hockey Academy, which provided him with a two-week scholarship at their camp.

Right-winger Vargas, then 17 and a Sidney Crosby devotee, was thrilled by the NHL pedigree of some of its coaches.

“Since they are professional trained hockey players, of course I want to learn from the best ones,” he said at the time.

Vargas has since gone on to become a coach with the Knights, as have Callow’s sons Anthony and Kenneth.

The unlikely puck passions of his young devotees has also been rewarded by trips to Calgary where a pilgrimage to the Scotiabank Saddledome to bask in the Flames’ glow was the highlight.

This coming October, that kind of excursion will skate a stride further as eight members of the Castillo Knights take to the ice for an intermission shootout during a game between the Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

“Those kids have never seen a game before and they’ll be skating on the same ice as Sidney Crosby,” said Callow.

But it was the arrival of a special guest in Costa Rica — Canada’s best-known hockey aficionado — that had a decisive impact on the movement’s fortunes.

Then-prime minister Stephen Harper was speaking at a business leaders’ roundtable in Costa Rica in August, 2011 when Canadian ambassador Neil Reider convinced him to pay the knights a visit.

The previous year, a certificate from Harper praised the program that “provided the youth of Costa Rica with the opportunity to experience the joy of Canada’s national pastime and the world’s greatest sport.”

“Neil planted the idea early to come here — apparently the prime minister wanted to skate with us but it didn’t happen,” said Callow.

But the visit’s gravitas encouraged the Castillo Country Club to cease mulling over an expansion of the rink to actually do it.

It was completed in 2014.

“That visit was instrumental in getting our new rink built,” said Callow.

That was enough to attract new players, including a record number of female enthusiasts and a nucleus of 60 players groomed by homegrown coaches like Serge Salvador, Aurelio Cence and Jorge Castiglione.

It’s also set the stage for Costa Rica’s first hockey tournament in November when teams from Calgary, Los Angeles and Britain’s Falkland Island face off with the hometown Knights.

The latter squad was wooed by Callow through connections made when he led a group of journalists to the islands in 2012 as a staffer with the British diplomatic corps.

They’ll be up against players with a bit of individualist streak, said the movement’s founder.

“I’d call it an offensive style, a tendency to stick handle all the way to the end of the ice,” said Callow.

“I’ll say ‘hey, can you pass it to me, please?'”

It’s a request made in Spanish, or Callow’s best custom-crafted hockey Spanglish.

S. Korea suffers 2nd straight loss to Sweden in women’s hockey friendly

By Yoo Jee-ho – Yonhap News

South Korea suffered a second straight loss to Sweden in their women’s hockey friendly game here on Saturday.

World No. 5 Sweden defeated the 22nd-ranked South Korea 4-1 at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, some 230 kilometers east of Seoul.

In their first showdown on Friday, Sweden blanked South Korea 3-0 while out shooting their opponent 40-13.

With South Korea on the brink of getting shut out again, captain Park Jong-ah got her team’s lone goal at 15:38.

South Korea hosted Sweden for two games here in preparation for the PyeongChang Winter Olympics next February. Gangneung Hockey Centre will also host hockey games during the Olympics.

Sweden once again came out firing from the first period, and South Korean goalie Shin So-jung again had to battle to keep her team in the game. Shin, named the top South Korean player of the game on Friday, frustrated one Swedish shooter after another with an array of saves. But it was a flukey shot that solved Shin late in the first.

At 16:26, Sabina Kuller received a pass from Sara Hjalmarsson to the right of Shin just outside the crease, and flipped the puck on a backhand over Shin’s shoulders to put Sweden ahead 1-0.

Shots were 19-7 for Sweden after the opening 20 minutes. The Swedes consistently found open teammates thanks to a combination of their sharp passing and South Koreans’ poor defensive coverage. For the second straight game, they were quicker to loose pucks and used their considerable physical edge to win battles in the corners.

Sweden doubled its lead just 2:37 into the second period, as Hanna Olsson scored from close range after taking a feed from Erica Uden-Johansson. With Olsson left alone at the top of the crease, South Korean defenseman Cho Mi-hwan stood watching the play unfold and failed to keep the Swedish forward in check.

Sweden enjoyed some extended shifts in the offensive zone during the period, cycling the puck down low and buzzing around the South Korea net for minutes on end. That left South Korean players gassed, and when they did secure the puck they had little left in their tanks to go on counterattacks and instead settled on clearing the puck out of their own zone and getting a line change.

Shin had to bail out her teammates on several occasions in the second period, most notably when she denied Rebecca Stenberg on a one-on-one chance with 1:42 left following yet another defensive miscue.

South Korea managed just two shots on the Swedish goalie Louisa Berndtsson in the middle frame, while giving up 20 on the other end.

Shin stopped Lisa Johannson near the top of the crease about four minutes into the third period to keep it a two-goal game. But Sweden extended its lead to 3-0 at the 11:10 mark, as Maja Nylen-Persson’s point shot traveled through the screen and ended up in the back of the net.

Annie Svedin made it 4-0 Sweden at 15:29 with a slap shot from just outside the right faceoff circle, after Sabina Kuller won the draw cleanly.

But just nine seconds later, Park Jong-ah gave home fans something to cheer about. After Sweden won the faceoff at center ice, Johanna Fallman stumbled and fell to the ice while skating back into her own zone. Park pounced on the loose puck and skated in on Berndtsson, before snapping a shot past the goalie.

South Korea head coach Sarah Murray said she was pleased with the way her players started the game, but she wanted to see more “consistency” from them.

“We need to maintain our momentum,” she said. “When things don’t go our way, we need to make sure that we maintain our consistency and don’t dip up and down.”

Park, the goal scorer, said she was elated to get the team on the board, because scoring against the world No. 5 had been one of South Korea’s collective objectives.

“I couldn’t have scored that goal on my own,” Park said. “I think we all saw some hope that if we try hard, we’ll have our chance to shine.”

South Korea and Sweden will face each other again in Group B during the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, where they’ll also play Switzerland (No. 6) and Japan (No. 9) in the preliminary stage.

South Korea will later set up camps in France and the United States, and face Switzerland, France (No. 13) and top-division U.S. college teams.

For more tune-up games, South Korea will also compete in a four-nation tournament in Hungary in November and have more training in New York and Minnesota in December.

S. Korea women’s hockey coach pleased with effort in friendly loss to Sweden

By Yoo Jee-ho – Yonhap News Agency

South Korea may have lost to Sweden 3-0 in a women’s hockey friendly game Friday, but coach Sarah Murray still saw enough that pleased her.

Sweden, ranked fifth in the world, outshot the 22nd-ranked South Korea 40-13 at Gangneung Hockey Centre in Gangneung, some 230 kilometers east of Seoul, in the first of their two friendly games. But Murray said her players still put in solid effort, despite the relative lack of preparation.

“There were opportunities where we showed we could really skate with them,” Murray said. “We could match their speed. We had some success in the offensive zone. It wasn’t like we didn’t generate any offense at all. When we were in the offensive zone, good things happened.”

Murray also praised South Korea’s forechecking in the neutral zone and the offensive zone. On the other hand, defense will need some shoring up to do. Two of the three goals were direct results of poor coverage.

“We need to improve our defensive zone (play),” she said. “I think we need to continue to get stronger physically. When we play against bigger teams, it’s hard to battle in corners when we need to match strength for strength.”

Murray separated two of her best forwards, Park Jong-ah and Han Soo-jin, for this game, after they enjoyed much success on the same line at the International Ice Hockey Federation Women’s World Championship Division II Group A tournament in April.

Murray said the decision was to ensure more depth up and down the lineup.

“We tried to put together a really fast line to shut down the other team’s first line. We thought they did pretty well,” Murray said of Park and her two linemates, Kim Hee-won and Grace Lee. “We tried to make next lines even and then we have a little bit more depth.”

The two nations will go at it for a second time at 3 p.m. Saturday at the same venue.

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