The oldest invitational tournament in the world (it was born in 1923) kicks off on Boxing Day. Six teams at the start including Team Canada, the Ticino biancoblu surprisingly won the 2022 edition and will try to repeat themselves
On the afternoon of Boxing Day , one of the most fascinating events in the world of European ice hockey kicks off , the historic Spengler Cup – or Spengler Cup – which is played every year in Davos, in the Canton of Grisons. The first edition dates back to 1923 and was invented – in fact – by Dr. Carl Spengler, whose name it takes.
The Spengler is not a championship or even a normal tournament between club teams which are the vast majority. However, participation is by invitation (it is the oldest tournament of this type in the world), allows the registered teams to strengthen their staff with loans from other companies and also sees a particular formation such as Team Canada at the start . Which obviously is not the Canadian national team but a selection of Canadian players playing in the European championships.
In short, a hybrid which however allows us to offer a great hockey spectacle and give fans a series of interesting matches in a period – between Christmas and New Year – where national tournaments are sometimes on pause.
There are six participating teams for each edition (until recently there were five) and six is also the number of hockey sticks that make up the current trophy (in the opening photo). One of these is always the host Davos who, however, has not won the cup since 2006. In the 2023 edition, in addition to the Grisons yellow-blues and Team Canada, the Finns of KalPa Kuopio (winners in ’18), the Czechs of Dynamo Pardubice will also participate , the Swedes of Frölunda and the Ticinese of Ambrì Piotta.
The presence of Ambrì is special : it is one of the two great Ticino clubs (the other is Lugano: the rivalry between the two is very heated), boasts numerous fans even among Italian (and Varese) fans and is even the reigning champion .In fact, Ambrì Piotta won the 2022 edition not without surprise, beating Sparta Prague in the shootout final (i.e. penalties) to the delight of the thousands of Leventina fans who flocked to Davos. The decisive goal was scored by Inti Pestoni, one of the symbolic players of the current Ambrì. For the white and blue club, little accustomed to triumphs in its long history, it was a truly historic success even if the Spengler, due to its invitational nature, is not considered an official trophy. But it equally gives prestige to those who conquer it.
The blue and whites then return to Davos as reigning champions and are placed in the group with Pardubice and KalPa and will play the opening match on Boxing Day against the Czechs. After the two matches for each team in the group, the direct elimination matches will begin on December 29th which will culminate on New Year’s Eve with the final which will start at 12.10 pm .
Taking a look at the roll of honour, Italy appears with five successes but in prehistoric times: the Rossoneri Devils of Milan won twice in the pre-war period in 1934 and ’34 and made it three in 1950; in ’53 and ’54 HC Milano Inter won instead . Then nothing more and the level of Italian hockey is almost always a step below what is seen at Spengler. Among the Ticino teams, Ambrì’s victory in 2022 was the first achieved by the canton that borders Italy: Lugano has played three finals (in 2015 and ’16 they lost in the final to Team Canada) but without ever winning the trophy.
The matches are produced and broadcast by Swiss state TV and relaunched in around thirty countries by individual local TV stations (most of Europe, Israel and Canada) but there are no Italian broadcasters in the list . Spengler, however, has its ownYouTube channelwhere you can watch the matches with commentary in English.
For many, the mention of ice hockey brings to mind the likes of United States, Canada, Nordic countries as well as Russia where the sport is as popular as football and athletics are in Kenya.
However, the sport is increasingly taking root in the country with stakeholders determined to tap in as many talents as possible and transform the country into a powerhouse in Africa and beyond.
Tim Colby is the coach of the national team, Ice Lions, and has been working closely with other stakeholders to grow the sport within the country and achieve the ultimate dream of Kenya one day gracing the Olympic Games.
The Canadian describes it as an exciting task that has sometimes encountered headwinds but is nonetheless soldiering on relentlessly.
“We’ve been on ice for five or six years except for the Covid period in the last couple of years. We started out slow…we had like new players who joined and then Covid hit. That really set us back a little bit,” Colby says.
He adds: “So, we picked up again recently. We were off the ice for quite some time for financial reasons. We couldn’t afford it…ice hockey is very expensive. We are back now, we have some funding to keep us going for a few months. I think we are going to see a lot of progress with the team.”
Part of the master plan to take Kenyan ice hockey to the next level is to compete in international matches in addition to training camps outside the country.
“Over the next year or two, it looks like we are going to have international trips. We have been invited to various places, including South Africa, who have a national team who will be competing in the Olympics qualifiers. That is our aim as Ice Lions…to qualify for the Olympics eventually,” the coach explains.
Dwelling on these international trips, Colby is optimistic they will introduce the players on what is required to compete at the highest level of the sport.
“We have some teams in North Africa…Algeria, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia…they are made up of players who play in North Africa. Then we have South Africa…so if we get down to South Africa next year for training, they have a full Olympic sized ice rink. We have a smaller ice here so we play three against three plus goalies…there they play five against five, which is the international standard,” Colby explains.
He adds: “We are hoping to get down there and do some training, which will be a great experience for the team. They have a strong program in South Africa and it’s a good model for us to learn how to organize and better play.”
Equally important for the growth of ice hockey in Kenya is training programs’ for local coaches to impart them with up-to-date knowledge of the game in line with world class standards.
“We can learn a lot from the South Africans and also from the North Americans who have offered to host us. If we can get over there, we can have some of the Kenyans trained as certified coaches. There are programs’ you can train in Canada and the US in particular and become a certified coach,” Colby explains.
He adds: “I was a certified coach in Canada but now we need the Kenyan coaches to step up…and they are doing it. They are training our players in the youth development programs’ but it’s a complex game so it is important for our coaches to be trained in certified international.”
Collaboration with NHL
Key to the success of this multi-pronged strategy is partnerships with public and private entities to enable the team acquire the necessary resources.
Much has been witnessed of the impact of the National Basketball Association (NBA) activities on the continent in the past decade and Colby is optimistic that the same could amount out of a collaboration with the National Hockey League (NHL).
“We have started some discussions with them…the professional league in North America. They are very interested…they didn’t know about ice hockey in Kenya or anywhere in Africa. They were very surprised and very happy when we sent them some videos and pictures. One team has reached out and they may come here when the NHL season is over to meet us and talk about a partnership,” the coach reveals.
The potential collaboration with NHL would resolve one of the challenges impeding the growth of ice hockey in the country, which is lack of regular matches in the national team.
Colby attributes that to the lack of facilities to play on, with Panari Sky Centre the only one available in the East and Central Africa region.
“Here in Kenya, there is only one ice rink. In Canada, where I grew up, there are thousands of ice rinks and every city has several so you can always find ice time to practice. This is a big challenge over here in Kenya,” he says.
His sentiments are echoed by national team player Arnold Mburu who adds that there are not much opponents they can test themselves against regularly.
“The matches are not as often as other sports mainly because of the unavailability of other teams to play with because as of right now we are the only team in East and Central Africa. The foreigners who come to play against us are expats, diplomats who come from all over the world to give us a challenge,” Mburu says.
He adds: “It is also difficult for most of us to find opportunities to train and play because ice time is pretty expensive. You can’t just have a game every month because it requires funds so it is challenging.”
Mburu is crossing his fingers that the government will come on board and support the growth of the sport, including construction of more facilities.
“Many people aren’t aware that ice hockey exists in Kenya. I’d love for the government to dip its hand in ice hockey. I’d love for fans to come out in their numbers and watch our matches. Hopefully, in the future, we might go to the Olympics,” he says.
His coach reveals they have made overtures to the government via the Sports Cabinet Secretary, Ababu Namwamba, to aid them in their plan to grow the sport.
“We are looking for a longer term partnership, including with the government of Kenya. We have approached the CS and his team about getting some sponsorship and support from the ministry,” Colby says.
Plenty of potential
The Ice Lion’s latest match was last Saturday against Team World to who they lost 12-2 in Pre-Jamhuri Day tie at the Panari Centre.
Commenting on the result, Colby believes the odds were always against his side considering the caliber of their opponents, most of who have played their sport since their childhood.
“I warned Team Kenya that they had to be sharp today because these guys want to win badly. They played really well but Team Kenya we were a bit flat today and you can’t afford to do that against an experienced team some of who are former ice hockey professional players. Today was not a good day for Team Kenya but it is a good lesson…you learn more from losing,” the coach observes.
Jukka Korhonen, who was part of the victorious team, feels their opponents showed them a lot of respect on the day but is nonetheless positive about the trajectory of the sport in the country.
“In today’s game, they had too much respect for us. Normally on Wednesdays, they usually compete well against us. However, ice hockey in Kenya has grown over time…the boys are really interested in the sport. It’s always fun to play over here, I really enjoy it,” Korhonen says.
He admits he is in awe of Kenyans’ physicality and believes the team can go places if they work on their technical aspects of the game.
“Many players are spending hours in ice skating, which tells me they are very interested in the sport. What they have is enormous speed on ice…now what they need is more technical aspects and more ice time and we will see them in a few years competing all over Africa and whatever competitions,” he says.
Reflecting on his journey on the ice rink, Mburu says he has enjoyed playing ice hockey and does not regret exchanging basketball shoes in favour of skates.
“Ice hockey is fun and exciting. I find it way more intense and more of a team sport. I played basketball in high school and at the University of Eldoret but I find ice hockey to be more fun,” he says.
Colby is hopeful more will follow Mburu’s cue and join the sport in droves – a process that is not rocket science to anyone interested.
“We have a youth program for training so once they can skate fairly well they can come out on our Sunday youth training program. We have two age divisions…we even have 7-8 year old’s that come out to play. You first need to learn how to skate. You can come out to Panari, the ice rink is really good. Come out and start training and then graduate to ice hockey with the Ice Lions training program ” he explains.
In a football-mad country that has enjoyed unparalleled success in athletics, ice hockey may seem like a fish among sharks in an ocean.
However, stakeholders are not about to develop cold feet in their quest to grow it into a major sport in Kenya and beyond.
New Delhi, Dec 7, 2023- Union Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports on Thursday unveiled a strategic Blueprint for the development of Ice Hockey in the Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh.
Royal Enfield unveiled a strategic blueprint for the development of Ice Hockey in the Union Territory (UT) of Ladakh.
Titled Game Changer, the blueprint document, prepared by Royal Enfield, will serve as a roadmap for the holistic development of the sport in Ladakh and is a step towards realising the ambition of fielding an Indian Ice Hockey contingent at the 2042 Winter Olympics.
The blueprint was handed over to Thakur in the presence of advocate Tashi Gyaltsan, Chief Executive Councillor, Leh, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), Mohd Jaffer Akhoon, Chief Executive Councillor, Kargil, LAHDC and Ravinder Kumar (IAS), Secretary to Lieutenant Governor of Ladakh and Department of Youth & Sports, Administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh by Bidisha Dey, Executive Director of Eicher Group Foundation, the CSR and Sustainability arm of Royal Enfield, at an event in the national capital.
“Today’s development is very exciting for our nation. I would like to congratulate the Administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh and Royal Enfield, for the creation of this Blueprint for the Development of Ice Hockey in Ladakh.
“This blueprint is a Game Changer and will certainly pave the way to enable an Indian Ice Hockey contingent to participate in the 2042 Winter Olympics,” said Anurag Singh Thakur, who has also written the foreword of this potentially game-changing document.
With more than 90% of India’s Ice Hockey players hailing from Ladakh winter sports is emerging as a promising avenue towards building resilience and generating livelihood opportunities—particularly for the youth. It can also simultaneously boost winter tourism, potentially transforming Ladakh into a coveted winter sports destination.
Commissioned by the Administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh, Royal Enfield collaborated with the European Business and Technical Centre (EBTC) and all relevant local, national and international stakeholders to develop this Blueprint, shaping the future of Ice hockey and winter sports in India.
Reviewed by and created with inputs from the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), this holistic document covers requirements for equipment and infrastructure, scouting and nurturing local talent, conducting training camps with the involvement of international coaches and professional governance, among other things.
While the document has been commissioned by the Administration of the Union Territory of Ladakh and has been created to develop the sport in Ladakh, it is not limited in its scope. It can be used as a template for developing the sport in other Himalayan states like Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh. (Agency)
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