Month: October 2021

Colombia wins men’s title, Puerto Rico women’s team prevails at LATAM Cup

By William Douglas – NHL.com

Colombia brought 80 players to the Amerigol LATAM Cup, the most of any country in the tournament, and a papayera.

The Colombian percussion and horn band played enthusiastically as Colombia’s Division I men’s team defeated Puerto Rico 5-1 to win the cup at the Florida Panthers IceDen to end the four-day tournament.

It was the second LATAM Cup in three tournaments for Colombia — the 2020 tournament was postponed due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus — and it eliminated the bitter taste from a 3-2 shootout loss to Jamaica in 2019.

Jamaica played exhibition games during the tournament and didn’t contend for the championship.

“To avenge that loss in 2019 and come back is huge, it’s monumental,” said Colombia coach Rich Garvey. “It goes back to the country, it means so much to the rest of the hockey program, both ice and inline, it’s really immeasurable.”

Colombia Fans cheering on their side to Victory

Michael Nijjar, a Colombia player who is a member of the Vegas Golden Knights ownership group, agreed.

“We’re super-excited, I’m sure a lot of people back in Colombia were watching,” he said.

Colombia appeared in four of the five championship games in men’s Division I, Division II, women’s, Under-12 and Under-16 brackets.

In addition to the Division I men’s win, Colombia’s Under-16 team defeated a team comprised of South American players 10-8. Brazil’s Under-12 team defeated Colombia 5-2; and Brazil’s Division II men won 8-2 against Lebanon.

Puerto Rico’s women’s team defeated Colombia 2-0.

“This has been an amazing experience and now we can show off that Puerto Rico and hockey are a thing,” said captain Jazmine Miley, a forward who plays hockey in France. “We’re going to the Olympics, baby. We’re getting that exposure. We’re here to make our mark

Puerto Rico Wins Gold in there first Women’s ice Hockey Tournament

That was the mantra for all the 29 teams and more than 500 players who represented Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Lebanon, Jamaica Mexico and Venezuela.

Most of the LATAM Cup nations don’t have ice rinks or have ones that don’t meet International Ice Hockey Federation standards that would allow them to play in sanctioned international tournaments or compete for a berth in the Olympics.

Their goal is to showcase their talents and inspire sports federations, Olympic committees or private investors in their countries to support ice hockey, mainly with ice rinks where they can play.

“The only way to show the world, to show our country what we’re capable of is being in this type of tournaments,” said Daniel Fierro, head of Colombia’s ice hockey federation. “Fast forward to the next years, we would like to see an ice hockey rink in Colombia, we would like to see Colombia play in world championships, in the qualification for the Olympic Games, and have more and more players playing.”

PR women’s ice hockey team set to make history at LATAM Cup

By Philip Painter The San Juan Star

When Sonja Rodríguez saw the 1970s magazine ad for Ronrico Rum featuring a Boricua goalie in front of the net enjoying a cocktail, she knew it was a send up of the times. Women’s hockey, let alone permanent ice on the island, was indeed a dream. The only ice was rattling in the pictured cocktail glass.

Rodríguez is ready to lead “Las Chicas” onto the ice this week at the LATAM (Latin American) Cup in Miami as a serious contender. Puerto Rico is once again making history as the Caribbean’s first ever women’s team. The island men broke through internationally in 2013 at the Copa Invernada in Punta Arenas, Chile.

“I can’t believe this is really happening,” Rodríguez said. “I thought when I played on the men’s team at the 2019 LATAM that was as close as girl’s hockey would get.”

Rodríguez backstopped for Puerto Rico in a four-game win streak to the finals, ultimately won by the Falkland Islands. Puerto Rico was the only co-ed team entered in the tourney, and was a crowd favorite as hockey’s answer to the Bad News Bears.

This is all about to change in Miami with the biggest Latin American hockey tournament yet, featuring teams from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Venezuela (Ecuador and the Falklands couldn’t make it due to COVID-19 travel issues). The Puerto Rico men have moved up to Division 1 after the “Milagro Sobre Hielo” in 2019, and are no longer an underdog.

LATAM organizer Juan Carlos Otero has never been surprised by the rapid growth of Puerto Rico’s program.

“When people heard Puerto Rico was entered in the last tourney, no one knew what to expect. We knew they lost their ice to Hurricane Maria and they were travelling as a pick-up squad — they had talent,” Otero said. “When they ran off dominant wins versus Mexico, Colombia, Argentina and Brazil the secret was out. PR is the real deal. I have no doubt they will be a force in the men’s and women’s brackets this year.”

Every game in this year’s tournament will be aired on HockeyTV. Not to mention that the NHL is sending the Stanley Cup, and pioneer Willie O’Ree — the Jackie Robinson of hockey — will be on hand to showcase the growth of hockey into new regions.

All games will be played at the Ice Den, the practice facility of the Florida Panthers, who, it’s worth mentioning, played the New York Rangers at the Coliseo de PR in 2006. It remains the only NHL game ever played south of Miami.

Puerto Rico defenseman Rob LaLonde of Isabela summed it up best.

“When I moved to the island I heard something was going on the hockey front,” he said. “When I see this year’s reality I have to step up my game. Other countries have us circled on the schedule. We’re not a secret anymore.”

Rudy Hodgson, DePaul club hockey goalie, helping grow the game with Team Colombia

Hodgson in net for Team Colombia. Courtesy of Rudy Hodgson

By Darcy Waskiewicz – DePaulia Online

Playing for your home country is always a special honor. Senior hockey player Rudy Hodgson knows this all too well.

A dual citizen for Colombia and the United States, Hodgson played hockey for Team USA when he was younger. And in the past few years, he has been able to play for Team Colombia as well. This week he gets the chance to do that again.

On Oct. 10, Hodgson left to play with Team Colombia in the LATAM Cup, which is hosted by the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League and takes place from Oct. 14-17 at Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs, Fla.

The tournament includes teams from all over Latin America and the Caribbean that come to battle each other for a spot at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) tournament, which takes place in Germany next year.

Hodgson first got involved with Team Colombia a few years ago through a family member, but his hockey-playing days began long before that.

Hodgson began playing hockey at the age of four and never looked back. A Los Angeles native, he grew up an LA Kings fan and played for their junior’s team, as well as in high school. All those things led him to where he is now — a goaltender for DePaul’s club team.

“I can’t really imagine a time in my life when I wasn’t ice skating or playing hockey,” Hodgson said. “So, I got involved through there, played high school, played club for the Kings and was fortunate enough to play not only for Colombia, but for Team USA for a couple years, so I’ve been really lucky to have a successful career so far.”

Growing up a Kings fan, Hodgson looked up to Jonathan Quick, the main goaltender for the team since 2008 who helped the team win two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. While playing for the King’s junior team, Hodgson was able to practice with Quick at times and learn from him as a fellow goaltender.

As a goaltender, Hodgson is the last line of defense on the team before the puck crosses the goal line into the net, but that was not the position he planned to play while growing up.

Hodgson became a goaltender around the age of seven or eight when his team’s goaltender didn’t show up. He was thrown into the position by his coach and picked up the position quickly. While he never intended to play the position, it has worked out for him in the end.

“Hockey’s taken me around the world,” Hodgson said. “So, it was a happy accident that I just kind of ran with and tried to make the most of it for sure.”

Now as a senior on the DePaul club hockey team, Hodgson serves as one of the unofficial leaders on the team.

“Whenever he speaks up or has something to say, people listen,” AJ Grzbek, Hodgson’s DePaul teammate and fellow goaltender, said. “He’s always been there for me, he’s there for everybody. Everybody loves him. He’s a great teammate, and for Team Colombia to have him, that’s just perfect, it works great.”

With the hope of continuing to play hockey after he graduates, Hodgson works hard on and off the ice to develop his game as much as he can, but he still tries to have fun and enjoy his senior year.

“He’s always the guy that wants to do extra stuff and learn extra things,” head coach Dan Wood said. “And there’s no surprise that he’s able to make this team, and I’m sure he’ll do great when he gets out there.”

When Hodgson first began playing with Team Colombia a few years ago, the team was not federalized by the government or considered a national team by the IIHF. That changed when Colombia joined the IIHF in 2019 and were able to play against other national teams.

Now, hockey is progressing in Colombia, but there’s still more room for growth. Hodgson is excited to be a part of that and help the game grow even more by playing with Team Colombia next weekend.

“At the end of the day, I’m there to win,” Hodgson said. “But I think the biggest thing that I would want to take away from this tournament is knowing that I helped contribute to the growth of hockey in Colombia and continue to do so with my style of play and hopefully with a little bit of success in there too.”

Latam Cup set to make return at Panthers IceDen

By William Douglas – NHL.com

29 teams from Latin America, Caribbean to hit ice after 2020 hiatus due to COVID-19

Daniel Fierro said there’s a little extra excitement among players who will compete in the 2021 Amerigol LATAM Cup this week than in previous years.

“Last year, we weren’t able to compete because of COVID,” said Fierro, president of Colombia’s ice hockey federation. “So excitement is all over the place now. The players are finally able to play.”

The LATAM Cup, a four-day tournament featuring teams from Latin American and Caribbean countries, returns to the Florida Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs, Florida, Thursday through Sunday after it was not held last year due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

The tournament features 29 teams and more than 500 men’s, women’s and youth players of varying skills representing Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United States and Venezuela.

The LATAM Cup will also have a Middle East flavor with men’s and women’s teams from Lebanon participating in the tournament for the first time.

“Not having the tournament last year, waiting two years would have been too long and we don’t want to lose the traction we’ve gained,” Amerigol International Hockey Association president Juan Carlos Otero said. “A lot of people are expecting this tournament. Everyone is really excited for this year.”

Including the Panthers, who have seen the LATAM Cup grow in participation and attendance since it was first held at their practice facility in 2018.

“We care about growing the game and especially growing in diverse markets, South Florida being such a melting pot of so many different cultures,” said John Colombo, senior director of Florida Panthers Foundation & Community Relations. “This tournament has become something that we really pride ourselves in; giving that experience of being able to watch teams, like from Colombia, who are bringing their soccer fandom to watch hockey for the first time.

“We’re excited to see this tournament grow each year and watch the passion from the players, their families and fans.”

The tournament’s growth includes off-ice activities. On Wednesday, players will watch a screening of “Willie,” the documentary about Hockey Hall of Famer Willie O’Ree, who became the NHL’s first Black player when he debuted with the Boston Bruins against the Montreal Canadiens on January 18, 1958.

“Willie” will be followed by a discussion by Bryant McBride, a former NHL executive who produced the film, and later a talk with Al Montoya, the Dallas Stars’ director of community outreach who became the NHL’s first Cuban American player when he was a goalie for the Phoenix Coyotes in 2008-09.

The Stanley Cup is scheduled to make an appearance at the IceDen on Thursday, giving many of the LATAM Cup players the rare chance to see the trophy in person.

“I feel like I played and won the Stanley Cup just by having it here,” Otero said, “and being able to give all the players coming from South America, the Caribbean, the opportunity to see the Cup, take a picture.”

Otero, a passionate Panthers fan, sees the LATAM Cup as an avenue to showcase Latin American hockey talent and promote the sport in Florida, where Hispanics account for 26 percent of the population.

“I’ve always said that if you want to grow the game here you have to invest down there (in Latin America) and this tournament is part of that,” he said. “As word gets out about the tournament in the communities here, we’re going to get a larger crowd of people who have never seen a hockey game. And when you see it in person, it’s hard not to fall in love with it.”

Hispanics are making inroads in the NHL and in hockey in general. Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews, who is Mexican American and was raised in Arizona, is among the League’s top scorers.

Alex Meruelo, a Cuban American businessman, became the NHL’s first and only Hispanic owner when he became majority owner of the Arizona Coyotes in 2019.

Xavier Gutierrez, who was born in Mexico, made history when he was named president and CEO of the Coyotes in 2020. In 2019, The Minnesota Wild hired U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer Bill Guerin, who has Nicaraguan roots, as its general manager.

El Paso, Texas, a city along the U.S.-Mexico border with a nearly 82 percent Hispanic population, won the Kraft Hockeyville USA title as 2020’s most spirited hockey community in America based on online votes. 

LATAM Cup players hope their participation in the tournament will lead to hockey progress in their homelands. But it’s not easy being an ice hockey player in a Latin American or Caribbean country that have few or no ice rinks.

To compensate, many of the players compete in inline hockey. Several players arrived in Coral Springs days ahead of the tournament to practice on ice and adjust from skating on wheels to steel blades.

Several of the LATAM Cup countries see the tournament as a possible springboard for them to someday play in International Ice Hockey Federation tournaments or in the Winter Olympics whenever they fulfill the requirement of having a suitable rink in their homelands.

“We want to compete in the LATAM Cup because all of the other countries that don’t have the minimum (rink) standard can compete,” said Dicky Haiek, a coach and founder of the Argentine Association of Ice and In-Line Hockey. “We want to compete in the LATAM because it’s the most important event for ice hockey in Latin America — it’s the only one.”

The NHL Would Like To Check Out Mexico

 

By Evan Weiner – Sports Talk Florida

The National Hockey League is openly talking about doing something in Mexico in the post-COVID-19 world. There doesn’t seem to be any timetable to stage a pre-season game in the country but there seems to be an interest. One NHL franchise, the Dallas Stars, has held a children’s ice hockey clinic in Mexico in the past. The NHL’s big problem with scheduling a game in Mexico is finding a suitable arena with an ice rink. That does not exist in Mexico. The business of exporting United States sports products into Mexico after COVID-19 is contained will continue. There are nearly 130 million people living in Mexico, making it the 10th-most populated nation in the world, so it is a good-sized market to sell sports merchandise. Soccer’s Liga MX still may want to form some sort of a formal alliance with the United States/Canadian Major League Soccer. MLS Commissioner Don Garber has in the past brought up the notion of merging with the Mexican league.

Major League Baseball staged regular season games in the country prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. There were suggestions more than two decades ago that Monterrey, which is not far from the Texas border, had the corporate market that Major League Baseball would want. Mexico City might be considered for an expansion slot as well. The National Football League has scheduled games in the past in Mexico City and will return to Mexico once COVID-19 is in containment but COVID-19 not going away quite yet. The National Basketball Association has staged regular season games in Mexico City and the league is trying to figure out if Mexico City is a suitable market. Mexico, Canada and the US have combined to host soccer’s 2026 World Cup. There are pesos on the table which means doing business in Mexico after the COVID-19 pandemic ends is a must.

The Argentine Ice Hockey Team participates in the Latam Cup in Florida

Argentina going to the Latam cup 2021

Source: Seman Arioargentino

The Argentine Ice Hockey Team will participate in the third edition of the Latam Cup to be held from October 14 to 17 at the Florida Panthers Ice Den in the city of Coral Springs, FL.

In the previous editions of the tournament, the Argentine team registered resounding triumphs against Mexico, Venezuela, and above all in both editions of the classic against Brazil. The Argentine National Team will seek in this edition to return to the medal podium, a place that it occupied with the bronze medal achieved in the 2017 Pan American Championship in Mexico City.

After not taking place in 2020 due to the global pandemic situation, the Latam Cup this year will have the participation of six national teams in its highest division.

In Division I Group A it will be Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Mexico while Group B is made up of Colombia, Lebanon, and Venezuela. The winners of their respective groups qualify directly to the semi-finals, while the second and third parties will play the quarterfinals.

Beyond this, the tournament will also have a female and Junior category, as well as a Men’s Division B (in which Brazil and Chile participate), although this time for the first time without the participation of Argentine teams due to a pandemic.

The current squad is made up of several players residing in Argentina, as well as abroad.

Among its players are Owen Haiek who participated in the Inline Hockey World Cup in Bratislava, Slovakia and until 2019 player of the Ontario Hockey Academy in Canada; Matias Weir, former captain of the Palm Beach Hawks and current Florida Atlantic University player; Ethan and Brody Lim from the South Florida Hockey Academy, Tomas Abrate, former Notre Dame varsity player; and several players from the Club Andino Ushuaia. Technical Director is Mr. Dicky Haiek, veteran of numerous IIHF World Inline Hockey World Cups with the Argentine National Team.

The Argentine team is recognized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) through the Argentine Association of Ice Hockey and Inline (AAHHL), in turn a member of the Argentine Olympic Committee.

This will be the seventh time Argentine men’s team will play in a international tournament.

The entrance to all the games is free and free, as well is the parking. The tournament will take place at the Panthers Ice Den, the Florida Panthers training center, located at 3299 Sportsplex. Dr., Coral Springs FL 33065

The fixtures of all categories, as well as more information about the tournament, are available at Amerigol Latam Cup

French goalie claims her place among men on the ice

French goaltender Charlotte Cagigos, left, participates in a training session in Caen, France, on Tuesday last week. She is the only woman to play in a men’s professional team in France.

Source:  Taipei Times

Charlotte Cagigos is aiming high, hoping to help the French women’s ice hockey team reach the Olympics. For now that means learning a new game as the only female goaltender training with a professional French squad.

Having laced up her first skates at the age of three, the native of sunny Mediterranean city Montpellier — not exactly an ice hockey bastion — knows full well what is riding on her efforts, months away from the Beijing Winter Olympics.

“It’s good for girls to see that you need to fight hard, and that hockey isn’t just a sport for boys,” said Cagigos, a 21-year-old who plays for Drakkars de Caen in the city of Caen in Normandy.

As the staccato of blades echoes off the ice, she stands guard in front of her goal during practice, taking hits from teammates who initially held back on their shots.

“At first when you see a woman in the goal you say: ‘We won’t strike so hard, we’ll be careful,’ but it’s exactly the opposite — we want to score and we hit the same as with any goalie,” Cagigos’ teammate Emmanuel Alvarez said.

Cagigos sought a club after graduating from high school, but few have women’s teams, and those that do often fill them with players of varying skills.

So the French ice hockey federation allows women under the age of 18 to skate on men’s teams.

For female goalies, there is no age limit, as the post is considered less exposed to the contacts that can be brutal elsewhere on the ice.

Yet Cagigos is one of just a handful who have played high-level hockey with men since the 1980s.

Cagigos joined the Drakkars at 17 and now trains with its semi-pro Division 1 squad, just below the Ligue Magnus, although so far she has not yet made its game roster.

For regular season matches, which began on Saturday, she is still on the Under-20 junior side or a reserve in Division 3.

However, since playing her first — friendly — pro game in January, Cagigos has captured national attention, and she has even been profiled by Canadian television.

She is not yet fully a pro, getting paid bonuses only for matches played, but the club’s sponsors help cover the cost of the thousands of euros’ worth of gloves, pads and helmet.

Between practices, she is also studying for a master’s degree in education, aiming to become a teacher.

“She brings a competitive spirit and a solid work ethic, and, above all, she fights hard every day in front of her cage,” Drakkar coach Luc Chauvel said.

She fits in so well “there are times I forget there’s a young lady with us,” he added.

That also means he has to remember to plan on a separate locker room for Cagigos to suit up.

“That’s the only downside to playing with the boys: I miss the locker room camaraderie a little bit,” Cagigos said. “It’s a small inconvenience compared with everything that I’m now able to experience.”

Trainee doctor Katie Marsden on Winter Olympic ice hockey qualifiers

Katie Marsden made her senior GB debut in 2016

By Katie Falkingham – BBC Sports

What started with a trip to a pantomime on ice at the age of three has taken Katie Marsden all over the world. The next stop, she hopes, is Beijing.

But to go there, she and her team-mates have to achieve what she says would be a “mindblowing” first – to qualify a Great Britain women’s ice hockey team for the Winter Olympic Games.

“It would be so great because it would just show that we do have so much talent in this country,” the 22-year-old told BBC Sport. “It would be great to get that recognition and show that we can play with the best of them.

“It would put women’s hockey on the map in the UK, and hopefully get more people involved from the younger level. That’s what you need to grow a sport.”

Women’s ice hockey has been part of the Winter Olympic programme since 1998, the men’s since 1920. GB has not qualified a men’s team since 1948, 12 years after winning gold.

The GB women’s campaign to qualify for the 2022 Olympics starts on Thursday, when they take on the first round of qualification in Nottingham in a group tournament with South Korea, Slovenia and Iceland.

But it is a journey that started for Marsden so many years before this, on a trip with her grandparents.

She and her brother initially took up figure skating after that panto visit, but Marsden, already a “tomboy” at that pre-school age, quickly ruled it “too girly” and so picked up a stick instead.

Almost 10 years later, the sport took her across the Atlantic where she would remain for some years. Scouted to attend a boarding school in Canada at 13, that led to her later enrolling at Trinity College in Connecticut, United States, where she could combine her hockey with her studies in neuroscience.

Studying and playing Stateside is a move few British ice hockey players have historically made, but a “steady flow” is now heading there as scouts realise “there are British players who are up to the standard of the American talent pool”.

On leaving home so young, Marsden said: “It was very scary but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.

“I was incredibly shy when I went, but then I came back and people were like, ‘oh, she’s changed, she’s gobby’.

“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my family. My mum said she had many sleepless nights. She hated it the first few months. It was weird when I came back during Covid because I hadn’t been home for that length of period before, so then to be locked inside together… Mum said ‘I did miss you but this is getting a bit much’.”

Now, aged 22, Marsden is back in the UK permanently, in her second year at Hull York Medical School. She hopes, in the years to come, to become a sports doctor – a dream born out of her interactions with the “whole medical team” as an athlete.

She had initially wanted to be a vet, but that idea was soon quashed when she realised she and animals “don’t get along that well”.

She gets along well with her team though. Marsden has been a critical part of the Great Britain set-up since her debut in 2016, a winner of three World Championship Division II Group A medals.

Next up for Marsden and her GB team-mates are those Olympic qualifiers, taking place from 7 to 10 October.

And they will have home advantage on their side too because the qualifiers – cancelled in 2020 – moved to Nottingham after South Korea withdrew from hosting.

Group victory would send GB into November’s final qualification round, where a ticket to Beijing 2022 would be up for grabs.

“We’re very, very excited, probably more excited now that it’s in Nottingham,” Marsden said.

“The trip to Korea would have been fantastic but being able to play in front of family and friends, and to get as many people in the rink as possible, it’s just going to add to the experience and hopefully give us that boost to beat everyone.

“We’re confident, it’s a really good buzz, we’ve got a really great team with some nice new young faces, who have brought some really good energy.

“Everyone’s just really excited to get going, because especially with Covid, it’s been quite an anticipated event with it being cancelled last year and us not being able to get on a rink, and now it’s here.”

Heon hoping to power Mexico to 2022 Beijing Olympics

By William Douglas NHL.com

Camryn Heon wants to go from Kraft Hockeyville USA to the medal stand at the 2022 Beijing Olympics for Mexico.

She is a 15-year-old defenseman from El Paso, Texas, and the youngest member of Mexico’s women’s national team vying to compete Feb. 4-20 in China’s capital.

“Since I was little, I knew that I wanted to be in the Olympics,” Camryn said, “and to know that it’s possible for me to play for a country that nobody would have thought has hockey and to represent them, it’s so incredible.”

Mexico, ranked 26th among 42 countries by the International Ice Hockey Federation, heads to Bytom, Poland, this week for an Olympic Pre-Qualification Round from Oct. 7-10. It will play in a bracket with the Netherlands, Poland and Turkey.

Camryn’s quest for the Olympics has been part of the hockey whirlwind swirling in the Heon household recently.

Her father, Corey Heon, is general manager of the El Paso Rhinos junior teams that play at the El Paso County Events Center, where the Dallas Stars defeated the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 in the Kraft Hockeyville USA 2020 preseason game Sunday.

Heon, who is Canadian, was involved with the Hockeyville USA planning when he was preparing the Rhinos North American Hockey League and North American Tier III Hockey League teams for their seasons.

His wife, Lori, who is from Manuel Benavides, Chihuahua, Mexico, shuttled Camryn back and forth across the border and stayed in Mexico for weeks at a time so her daughter could practice and play.

The family had little time to bask in the afterglow of the Hockeyville game. Corey Heon was scheduled to fly from El Paso to Poland on Monday.

“It’s a pretty good accomplishment in what she’s achieved, being a 15-year-old making that women’s national team,” Corey Heon said last week. “We’re really excited as parents and even our organization is super pumped, too. Without their support and their help, she wouldn’t have been able to do it.”

Camryn said she told her parents and grandparents at an early age she would play in the Olympics someday for the United States, Canada or Mexico, with Mexico being her top choice.

She began skating at 3 and started playing organized hockey with boys at 7 because there weren’t enough girls playing in El Paso at the time to form a team.

Once a girls’ hockey program was finally put together, Camryn joined and continued to play on the boys’ squad.

Camryn said she didn’t know about Mexico’s women’s team until 2019 when the country’s men’s national team played two exhibition games against the Rhinos in El Paso.

“I learned they had an 18-U team, so I started playing with them first when I was 13,” she said. “I had been going back and forth to Mexico for (national team) tryouts and last month, I made it.”

Joaquin de la Garma, president of the Mexico Ice Hockey Federation, said Camryn is the second-best defenseman on the team.

“Camryn is so young but she’s one of our best prospects,” he said. “She’s a great skater, she’s very fast skating. She plays good defensive hockey but sometimes she [contributes] in offensive situations. She’s a key player on the team.”

Mexico has been an IIHF member since 1985. Its ice hockey federation ramped up its effort to qualify for the Olympics nine years ago when the country’s minister of sport boosted funding for the women’s program, de la Garma said.

“For Mexico, the best future is women’s hockey,” he said. “Women’s hockey started officially in the Olympics in 1992 (the first tournament was played in 1998 in Nagano). We can say that it’s new for other countries, so it’s very competitive. For men, it’s very complicated because if you want to be in the Olympics you need to at least have some of the team in the NHL. We don’t have any players in the NHL.”

Camryn said Mexico’s women’s team is a talented group of mostly veterans, including Claudia Tellez, a 37-year-old forward who was drafted in the eighth round by Calgary of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2016 and played her way onto the reserve squad.

“The level in competition in Mexico is a lot higher than what I was used to practicing with, because I’m practicing with women,” Camryn said. “I think playing at that level has improved the way I play, the way I skate and everything.”

She hopes her game has improved enough to help Mexico shock the hockey world by earning a berth to play in Beijing.

“People don’t expect the women’s national team to be ranked (26th) in the world,” Camryn said. “I want to take my team to the Olympics, represent my country in the best way I can.”