Day: October 13, 2021

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.