Day: December 13, 2022

Pursuit: From Spain to Sudbury … to play hockey?

Claudia Castellanos

Meet Claudia Castellanos who fell in love with Canada’s game in her home country of Spain and who is spending this winter in Sudbury to play hockey for St. Charles College and the Sudbury Lady Wolves.


Meet Claudia Castellanos who fell in love with Canada’s game in her home country of Spain and who is spending this winter in Sudbury to play hockey for St. Charles College and the Sudbury Lady Wolves.

In the entirety of Spain and its population of 43 million or so, there are approximately 760 registered hockey players, or about 25 per cent of the number of hockey players in Sudbury alone.

The country is home to 16 arenas, the bulk of which are in Madrid, home of Claudia Castellanos.

At least that’s the permanent home of the cheerful young teenager who is spending the winter of 2022-2023 attending St Charles College, suiting up with both the Cardinals and the Sudbury U18 A Lady Wolves.

Make no mistake, despite the rather unique foundation on which her hockey career is built, this girl can play. 

Just ask Lady Wolves’ netminders Stevie Levesque and Farrah Farstad, both of whom have seen plenty of the bar-down snipe of a forward who this past summer helped lead her team to the IIHF U18 Division II championship (a nine-team tournament that included the likes of Great Britain, Latvia and Australia), earning the promotion to Division I Group B with Poland, South Korea and Denmark.

“It’s so different here,” said Castellanos, whose athletic background in her youth included swimming, kick-boxing, in-line hockey, alpine ski, ice hockey, but not soccer. “There’s more intensity. In Spain, hockey is not that important. Here, it’s hockey, hockey, hockey. There, it’s football, football, football — like soccer.”

Castellanos was just five years old when she first laced up the skates, quickly taking to the game without the countless training advantages that a typical Canadian child might have at the same age. 

“When I was nine, I had seen some videos and so I put the puck through a defenceman’s legs and controlled it and shot and scored,” she recalled.

The fact that she converted on the shot will surprise very few of her new teammates. While there is plenty to like about her game, it’s the pace of her shot and the quickness of the release that has already seen her noticed in local settings. 

“I got good on my shot when I was little,” she said. “My father made me something on the floor for in-line hockey and I have a net and I would see videos. I worked for hours on getting a better shot.”

As one might well imagine, the challenge in Spain, as it is in so many countries, is the lack of competition for those who somehow take a liking to a sport that flies well under the radar in the land of Flamenco and bull-fighting. 

“When I was five, I played against people that were 10 years old or more,” said Castellanos. “They were so big.”

Thankfully, there are at least some options that do not involve crossing the Atlantic in terms of allowing the young woman to enjoy like-minded girls. 

“In the summer, I would go to the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden and Finland to play hockey,” she said. “My parents have helped so much.”

Just over three months into her North American hockey adventure, Castellanos could not be more pleased with the results. 

“My skating is faster and my stick-handling is better,” she said. “In Spain, you make a move and you get past the players easy. Not here.

“Here, it’s more strong, more physical. I like it here.”

While she is not completely unique (Castellanos explained that two of her friends are currently playing in Boston as well), there is little doubt the dreams she had were definitely not shared by the masses in Madrid.

“When I was 10, I thought about going away for hockey,” she said. “I saw the NHL and wanted to be playing in Canada, skating on the lakes, something like that. In Spain, we have no snow and almost no lakes.”

Such is her passion for the game that Castellanos has now introduced the sport to her entire family, with mom and dad and both of her little sisters giving it a shot. In fact, she suggested that the youngest sibling might yet be the most talented of the crew.

That’s saying something, given the impact that this young player has already made on a pair of local girls hockey teams in Sudbury. 

Bragnalo was talented, tenacious

Rick Bragnalo

Dayton Gems forward Rick Bragnalo moves in to score the game-winner with 40 seconds left in the second overtime as part of a 3-2 victory over the Des Moines Capitols in International Hockey League playoff action on April 2, 1975.

Back in the days of the Thunder Bay Junior Hockey League, the Fort William Canadiens were a team that continually produced a plethora of on-ice talent.

One such player on the local squad was a diminutive, yet tenacious and highly-skilled forward, Rick Bragnalo.

Bragnalo produced at well over a point-per-game with Fort William with 105 points in 59 outings in his time there. He was even picked up by the Westfort Hurricanes after they won the TBJHL title in 1970 and went on the Memorial Cup trail.

Bragnalo registered 12 points in as many outings for the Herks, who eventually fell in the western Canadian final to the Weyburn Red Wings in six games.

Recognized for his skill and his intensity, Bragnalo went on to earn a NCAA Division I scholarship to the University of Denver, playing alongside fellow local products and future NHLers, Mike Busniuk and Vic Venasky.

Bragnalo helped lead DU to three Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff crowns and equally as many top-three finishes in the NCAA tournament.

In 1974, Bragnalo started his pro career by signing with the International Hockey League’s Dayton Gems.

That initial campaign in the IHL saw him light it up offensively, finishing with a league-best 113 points on 41 goals and 72 assists.

Bragnalo’s efforts also earned him IHL Rookie of the Year laurels.

Of note, another alumnus of the Fort William Canadiens, who was a stellar performer in the IHL in the 1960s and early 70s was Kenora product Bryan McLay.

That crafty forward spent four seasons with the local Habs from 1953-57 prior to shining with the Muskegon IHL franchise where he was a star, and was the fifth-highest point producer in league history with 1,100 points to his credit.

The following season in which Daytona went on to win the Turner Cup, Bragnalo was well on his way to another solid run, despite an upper-body injury that sidelined him for a month.

However, his play had already caught the eye of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, whose new bench boss, Tom McVie, was his coach with the Gems.

Bragnalo went on to make his NHL debut with the Caps on Feb. 22, 1976 against the New York Islanders, then collected his first point, with an assist two nights later versus the Philadelphia Flyers.

Bragnalo would then notch his first NHL goal on March 16 of that year in a 5-2 home ice victory over the New York Rangers.

Going on to play four seasons with the Capitals, Bragnalo supplied 50 points on 15 tallies and 35 assists.

Bragnalo made a few stops later on with the Hershey Bears of the AHL and an 83-point run, in 67 games played, with the Port Huron Flags (IHL) in 1979-80. Bragnalo next played internationally, where he spent the following 12 seasons.

Competing in Italy with such clubs as Brunico/Bruneck and Milan, his heritage also gave him the chance to play for the Italian national team, where he finished third highest among that country’s point producers with 50 in 145 outings.

Included in those contributions was a one-goal, two-assist effort in a 3-3 tie against Canada at the 1982 world hockey championship in Finland.

Bragnalo went on to post 1,292 points throughout his time on the ice in 1,074 games played.

He later went into coaching and guided the Thunder Bay Kings to back-to-back Air Canada Cup national under-18 championship medal finishes, mining silver in 1996 and bringing home gold in 1997.

Inducted into the Northwestern Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2011 in recognition for his distinguished career achievements, Rick Bragnalo certainly earned his place on the honour roll of the Lakehead’s best.

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