Category: Africa

Morocco makes it

By Martin Merk – IIHF.com

Morocco beat Ireland 11-4 in the final to win the inaugural Development Cup. It was the first time Morocco won an international tournament in the event that also included Portugal, which finished third, and host Andorra. 

The four-team tournament is an initiative from some of the smaller IIHF member countries not part of the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program to give them an opportunity to play amongst each other similar like the IIHF Ice Hockey Challenge Cup of Asia for the Asian members. 

Morocco was the strongest team both in the preliminary round and in the final. The team that mostly consists of Moroccans who learned and played their hockey in Europe and the Canadian province of Quebec finished the event with a 4-0 record. 

Ireland has been the toughest opponent in the preliminary round – even though scores may tell otherwise – and it was similar in the final between the two most skilled and physically strongest teams. During Morocco’s first power play Thomas Carpenter gave Ireland the lead on a breakaway but a few moments later Mehdi Ghazi converted the man advantage to tie the game. 

The Moroccans continued to be strong and were ice-cold with their chances. Hakim Bouchaoui gained Morocco its first lead and a natural hat trick from Damien Bourguignon made it 5-1 for Morocco after one period. 

“Of course it was great to have such a good start but even if I scored three goals it was not just me, it was great work from the whole team. We had a good team here. Everybody contributed to winning the tournament,” said Bourguignon. 

The son of a French father and a Moroccan mother was one of the most skilled player from the European-based contingent. Last season he played in the French second tier for the Clermont Sangliers and this season one league below for the Dijon Ducs. France, which held Morocco as a protectorate until 1956, has a big diaspora of people from Morocco and other North African countries. 

“I played first time last summer in the Africa Cup. I really appreciated playing in that tournament and that’s why I came again for this event without hesitating a second,” the 25-year-old forward said. 

“It was unbelievable to play in Morocco last year. If somebody had told me ten years ago that I’d play ice hockey in Morocco I’d have said “you’re crazy!” and when I got the invitation I first thought my friends were kidding me until I realized it was real and I went to Rabat. There’s a group of very motivated people from the President to the players.” 

The second period against Ireland continued in the same direction the first frame had ended. Youssef Chadli, Charles-Hichem Balha and Yassin Ahrazem scored for Morocco, Ian Courtney had a marker for Ireland before a few players unloaded their emotions in a hard-contested game with their fists, just to later mix together for a more peaceful team photo after the game. 

The end of the second period continued with four-on-four and one goal each for a 9-3 score after the second period. After exchanging three more goals in the third period Morocco won the game 11-4, got the trophy and celebrated with it and hearing their national anthem, the Cherifian Anthem, in the background. 

Another player with high-level experience is captain Youssef Kabbaj from Westmound, Quebec, who played three years at the highest level of junior hockey in Canada’s QMJHL, four years of CIS college hockey and since 2016 minor league hockey in Quebec, this season for St-Cyrille Condors (LHSAAAQ). 

Hakim Bouchaoui, who was born in the Swedish hockey town of Karlstad, is another player who plays amateur hockey in a top hockey country, currently for Swedish fourth-tier team Kils AIK. 

“It was fun. It was hard in the beginning. We knew Ireland was going to play hard and be good,” Bouchaoui said. “But some of the guys play a lot and know the game well.” 

Bouchaoui came in through his brother, who played for Morocco in the 2008 Arab Cup in Abu Dhabi. “We tried all kind of sports, football, hockey, but I loved hockey. I played first time last year in the Africa Cup. It was special since we played we played 3-on-3. It was a good experience.” 

Ice hockey in Morocco is a rather young sport and the first generation of players who started as kids in Morocco is slowly moving into senior hockey. The roster included two young players developed in Morocco. One of them is Mohamed El Idrissi from Rabat. 

“I started in 2005. They invited me to play for the Rabat Capitals when they started the team and I have liked playing hockey ever since then. I’m very proud to be a member of the national team and represent Morocco,” said El Idrissi, who usually plays one game a week plus practice in the Moroccan capital. 

“We have played well here, won games. We have the qualities to play good hockey. My dream is to develop hockey in Morocco and find the means to play hockey and get a full-size ice rink. We need a rink and then we can move further. We don’t have a lot of means but we dream about a rink to play international ice hockey. We have two small ones but it doesn’t work to invite bigger teams who are used to play on international-size rinks.” 

Mrini’s dream started in the ’80s in Quebec

The Royal Moroccan Ice Hockey Federation is a life-long dream of Khalid Mrini, who grew up in Morocco before moving to the Canadian province of Quebec. Behind the bench he had his fellow Morocco-Quebecer, Development Director Adil El Farj, and his brother Mimoun Mrini, who lives in Morocco and served as head coach of the team. 

“We work a lot. Now we have more than 400 players in Morocco. We started last year our first national championship. It’s growing. It’s a lot of work but the future is bright,” said Khalid Mrini. 

His dream of ice hockey in the North African country started a long time ago. He moved to Quebec as a 17-year-old to study in Canada and immediately fell in love with ice hockey when he saw a Montreal Canadiens vs. Detroit Red Wings game on TV. “In Morocco sometimes you see in the sport news the Stanley Cup or the World Championship but just a 30-second highlight. When I first time saw a full game I started following the Montreal Canadiens and travelled to games a lot in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I love this game because it’s so exciting,” he said. 

In 1983 he was at the International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament in Quebec. “I saw all these flags, Canada, United States, Switzerland and so on. I told my girlfriend that one day I’d put my flag there. She started laughing. She said “it’s only I dream”. I knew it was a dream but you can’t live without dreams. 

“When they opened the first ice rink in Morocco in 2004 my brother called me and told me there’s an ice rink in Rabat. I went to Morocco and we started the first hockey school. In 2006 I went to Quebec City to participate with 14 players from Morocco. I called my ex-girlfriend. I told her “I made it!”. It took me more than 20 years but I did it. I had my flag there. It was a feeling I can’t explain, to have the flag there with the Canadians, Americans, Russians.” 

After starting ice hockey at the small rink in Rabat – in the meantime a second small-size rink is used for hockey in Casablanca – Morocco started to look out for international contacts. First Moroccan kids played against kids from hockey countries who were kids of diplomats in Morocco. Later they hosted a Canadian team, French teams, Spanish teams, went to Switzerland for a ten-day camp. In 2008 they participated in the first and only Arab Cup in Abu Dhabi. 

“In 2010 we became IIHF member, something I’m proud of because that’s where all the big and smaller hockey countries are members. I started to speak with many presidents from other countries and look for help,” Mrini said. 

“Last year we had the first Africa Cup against teams from Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt. The government started believing in us and saw that it’s getting serious. Two years ago we went from being a national association to being a Royal federation. It means a lot. It means the government started to believe in us and that hockey is growing in Morocco.” 

Now he has his Moroccan flag in other tournaments too including the 2017 Development Cup where Morocco for the first time played national teams from Europe. 

“I’m living my dream and being here today is still a dream because you have the Moroccan flag here, you hear the national anthem with the other countries. But it’s only the beginning. I want to show the hockey world that we’re serious. Hockey in Morocco is not exotic. We’re not just for the photo gallery,” Mrini said. 

“Hockey is not just the big countries like Canada, USA or Russia. We have here the coverage on the IIHF website. And last year Luc Tardif came to Morocco. When I told the government that he is the IIHF Treasurer and President of the French Ice Hockey Federation, they realized that the IIHF is really supporting us. It was like a wake-up call and they started helping us more and more,” he added. 

“Inshallah we will have an ice rink”

While Morocco has passionate diaspora players who represent the country of their roots, hockey has also grown in the country itself since its start. What once began with six players when the ice rink in the Mega Mall in Rabat opened is now a sport with eight club teams. When the national championship begins later this month, they will be joined by a ninth team. 

Mrini’s dream is not over yet. He knows that to develop hockey within the country and be able to play internationally with homegrown players it needs more rinks. While the federation is working on having a third small rink in Agadir, the challenge is to get the first full-size one to be able to play five-on-five and join more established ice hockey countries in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program. 

“Now I’m looking to build an official ice rink in Morocco. In Rabat, or Casablanca. It’s not so important where it is but to have a big ice arena. I want to start in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III,” Mrini said. 

“In the beginning it was very hard but now the government saw our international tournaments and the national championship in Morocco. I have all the plans to build an arena from the IIHF. I have everything ready. Now just the money is missing but I’m working hard for it and Inshallah [if God wills] we will have an ice rink,” he said. “Morocco deserves it.” 

Kerbouche is on a mission to build on Algeria’s success in their first ice hockey competition

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While growing up in Islington, Karim Kerbouche discovered a passion for ice hockey after a friend gave him a Sega Mega Drive game – and, after watching his first live match at the age of 12, he was totally hooked.

More than two decades later, Kerbouche has gone on to become head of Hockey Algeria, leading the country’s first ever representative team to a creditable third-place finish in the inaugural African Club Cup this year.

To achieve that, the 34-year-old had to return to the computer for an extensive internet search to locate fellow players of Algerian origin in Europe and North America.

Kerbouche, who attended Central Foundation School, recalled: “I love football but I wasn’t that good at it and, once I found ice hockey, I left all the other sports behind.

“On my 12th birthday my mum took me to see Lee Valley Lions and I fell in love with the sport straight away – the speed, the physicality and the toughness of it.

“I went on to play for Haringey Wolves’ junior side and studied sport and leisure at college, but I always wondered if there could be an ice hockey team in Algeria.

“I started searching for other players of Algerian origin, going through stats on French websites and emailing teams to contact people who had Algerian-sounding names.

“It turned out that there were quite a few players in France as well as Canada and it seemed many of them felt the same, but no-one had taken the initiative.”

In 2008, Kerbouche managed to obtain funding for his newly-formed team to represent Algeria at an Arab Cup tournament in Abu Dhabi and scored their first ever goal, against Morocco.

He went on to play as a forward for Lee Valley Lions and Streatham Redskins in the English National Ice Hockey League – as well as working for leisure provider GLL at Streatham ice rink.

At that same time, Kerbouche continued his determined efforts to spread the growth of the sport in his parents’ homeland – quite a challenge with only one permanent ice rink and minimal government backing.

“The rink is in a mall and it’s not Olympic size – it’s only really suitable for ice skating and kids’ games,” explained Kerbouche, who now works in Poplar. “To be honest, some people in Algeria think it’s a bit of a joke.

“It’s difficult to get sponsorship – we do usually find it but it’s usually a last-minute thing. For the recent African Club Cup in Morocco we had someone sponsor our uniforms about three or four weeks beforehand.

“There is money in Algerian sport but it goes mostly towards football – especially as we’ve been in the last two World Cups and have quite a few players in the Premier League, like Riyad Mahrez.

“With that said, we do get support from the public – on Facebook we’ve got 120,000 followers and more than 6,000 on Twitter.

“Kids in Algeria are skating on roller blades so I think the potential is there and I’d love to bring in a new activity for them. When I was a kid, the biggest issues were the cost of equipment and ice time and those will be the same issues we have to deal with in Algeria.”

Kerbouche and his team-mates, who competed under the label of Algiers Corsaires for their third-place finish at the African Club Cup, are aiming to build on that by winning next year’s tournament.

He added: “It was all a bit rushed in terms of getting players together, with people booking their tickets the week before the tournament, but we learned a lot from it.

“Next summer it’ll be a big improvement and our objective is to win it.

“We’ve managed to get a $15,000 grant from the NHL for ice hockey in Algeria and that also should help us to get better facilities for the sport.”

Icy Expectations

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An African team competing in Ice Hockey is practically unheard
of. This Kenyan team hopes to eventually change that.

This Kenyan Ice hockey team is trying to make a name for themselves in a winter Olympics sport that’s had rare African participation. 

Nairobi— On a Wednesday night, in an indoor ice rink, hockey players on opposing teams dart at high speeds across the length of the ice, whacking away at the hockey puck with their sticks or lifting it and sending it flying towards the goals positioned on either side. Rapid starts, stops, turns, tumbles, stomping and body checking characterize the exhilarating one-hour practice session. 

This scenario is almost similar to any that one would see at any ice hockey rink across many parts of Europe or North America where the sport is widely popular. But in Kenya, where this particular practice is taking place, ice hockey is quite an oddity and would likely prompt an immediate channel change if a game came on television.

In sharp contrast, almost every TV screen in a sports bar in the East African nation, is currently tuned to the events of the Rio Summer Olympics and especially to track and field where Kenyan runners normally dominate the middle and long distance races. Since the athletics’ part of the games began, the daily newspapers have been splashed by front-page pictures of medaled Kenyan athletes, proudly draped in the national flag. 

Holding onto these vibrant images, the little-known, fairly new Kenya ice hockey team hope to bring the same glory to their country at the Winter Olympics.

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The team practicing at the only ice rink found in East Africa.

“We have the talent and so I have no doubt that one day we’ll be there (Winter Olympics) to represent our country,” says Daniel Maundu, one of the team’s defense-position players. 

Like all his team mates, Daniel had never seen that much ice before until he became a staff member at the upmarket Panari hotel, in the country’s capital city, where the only ice rink in East and Central Africa is found. 

“When I started working at the hotel, I would come to the rink to watch kids skating and I became very interested,” says Daniel.

“I thought to myself, I can learn to do this,” he adds. 

It took him six months to learn how to skate and then another two years to learn ice hockey and join the group.

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It took player, Daniel Maundu, 6 months to learn to skate.

The team’s growth in skill and knowledge of the game is both self-taught and from the invaluable input of expatriates living in Kenya that played the game in America or Europe. 

Another player, Joseph Nganga, is a left-handed striker who made the transition from roller skating hockey to ice hockey about two years ago. Every week he travels more than two hours from the outskirts of the city for the one-hour practice session. Though a huge inconvenience, he says he would not miss them for the world. 

“If I don’t make it for practice, it would mean waiting a whole week for the next one,” he laments.

“I love this game, I love the feel of the stick,” he adds almost dreamily.

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Joseph Nganga actually learned to roller skate then transition to
ice skates two years ago.

Joseph’s passion and dedication is a reflection of the team’s determination to play and win at the international stage. But the team’s coach Benard Azegere – who also doubles up as an ice skating instructor at the hotel – is realistic of the fact that not just winning an Olympic gold but even qualifying for the Winter Olympics, anytime soon, is a far fetched dream.

“We have a long way to go, we need more practice, we need more things,” says Bernard. 

Beginning with the most basic of resources, such as protective gear and equipment. For instance, instead of a goalkeeper in both goals, the team has an inflatable rubber penguin to ‘stand guard’ at one of the goals. This is because the team cannot afford the expensive gear that a goalkeeper needs to protect himself from a hockey puck coming at him at speeds of more than 100 km/h. The goalkeeper, a non-Kenyan, at the other goal, played in amateur ice hockey in Europe and came to Kenya with his own equipment. Everything else that the team members currently use belongs to the hotel and is also hired out to skating enthusiasts who pay the $8 fee for a one-hour use of the rink.

“We go by what we can,” says Bernard

“At least we have the key protective ones, which are helmets and the shin guards,” he reasons.

Though the list of challenges is long, the team is not at all short on enthusiasm.

“We have a bright future ahead and even if the current team doesn’t make it to the Winter Olympics or something, we have a talented junior team that we are training,” says Bernard

“They will eventually take us there,” he concludes with a smile. 

Hockey Nation Profile: Tunisia — The Newest Hockey Champions

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By Steven Ellis – nhlnumbers.com

Do you think ice hockey in Las Vegas doesn’t make sense? Try playing hockey in Africa.

Wait, there’s hockey in Africa? Believe it or not, there’s hockey on almost every continent in the world, with Antartica joining the fun next year. Hockey in Africa isn’t exactly a big thing yet, but countries like Tunisia are working towards a long-term development plan for teams in the area.

Tunisia is a strange example of a hockey team because, due to a lack of a player base, their club team is essentially their men’s national team. They’re also strange because while their club team is their national team, they haven’t yet played any other national team, at least officially.

But even with that, they still managed to win their very first hockey tournament, a rare occurrence for any team.

Humble Beginnings

The Tunisian hockey dream had a slow start, but the dream would still become a reality. After hard work from French Division IIII player Ihab Eyad, the Tunisian Ice Hockey Federation was finally announced on November 11th, 2009. The future was sill unclear at that point, with rumors of the team participating in a potential African Ice Hockey Cup in 2010, which never actually came to life.

Their first game was a memorable one, even though it ended in disappointment. Featuring a full 23-man squad, the team battled it out against Les Coqs de Courbevoie, a team that participates in the fourth highest French league. Tunisia put in a good effort but despite that, they still managed to fall short in a 6-5 loss on June 14th, 2014.

Tunisia’s roster wasn’t great. They were without some of their better players, including former NHLer Ramizi Abid and Semir Ben Amor. Very few players play highly competitive leagues, with Adrien Sebag potentially being one of the best playing in the ACHA III league, which, for those that don’t know, is below the NCAA. 

They didn’t win, but they were just getting started.

First Time Champions

After years of planning, the first ever African Ice Hockey Championships took place in Morocco during July of 2016. The sport had really never developed in the content, with South Africa competing in the lowest division of the World Championships, Division III. As the 42nd highest ranked team in the IIHF rankings out of 50, of whom 47 actually play, it’s not really a thriving market.

That’s what the African Cup was ready to help. For the teams in attendance, it was the first real effort at playing hockey in many years. For Algeria and Morocco, it was their first tournament since the 2008 Arab Cup, an event that never happened again. For Egypt, it was the first time they had entered any team in an international tournament.

With Tunisia playing just two years prior, it could be said that they were ready for the task after playing most recently out of any of the competitors. Featuring most of the players that participated in the game in 2014, Tunisia was ready to combat for a victory.

There weren’t many fans in attendance. Major news outlets weren’t talking about it. TSN wasn’t producing daily segment recaps showing you all the greatest moments from the opening 19-0 victory for the Carthage Eagles, Tunisia’s club team.The Eagles followed it up with an 11-6 victory over Algiers Corsaires from Algeria before defeating the Morocco Mallers 11-8.

That set the pace for the final game, which saw the only two unbeaten teams battling it out for gold. In the end, Carthage would score the extra goal needed to take the victory, finishing off the tournament with a perfect record for Tunisia’s first championship in an international competition, whether it be with the national team or a club team, at the men’s level.

Tunisia could now claim to be ice hockey champions, even if it was at a level that wouldn’t be considered competitive in North America.

Hope for a Good Future

Their victory was a major step in the right direction for Tunisia’s future. Yes, it wasn’t an official international tournament, despite the countries essentially using their national team players. But to beat your closest competition despite being an extremely new program is something to be proud of.

But that’s to be expected for a team such as Tunisia. The sport is fairly new there and there isn’t a lot of money available to the teams. Developing at the grassroots level is something Tunisia has been working towards, but it’s tough when your only chances to play come at random points. Still, this team is dedicated to building a strong future in the sport and have aspirations of playing at a much higher level some day.

With Ihab Eyad putting his faith into such a program, you can bet yourself that they’ll rise to be much stronger someday.

Tunisia’s Carthage Eagles Wins First Ever African Cup

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By Steven Ellis –
Eurohockey.com

Tunisian club Carthage Eagles are the first ever champions at the African Ice Hockey Cup, which took place in Morocco over the past week.

In a very closely contested final game, the Carthage Eagles are the very first champions of the African Ice Hockey Cup following an 8-7 victory over the Rabat Capitals from Morocco.

The Eagles, featuring many players from Tunisia’s national team that participated in exhibition action back in 2014, had no issues throughout the tournament, defeating Egypt’s Cairo Anabus 19-0 on the opening day. The team followed it up with an 11-6 victory over Algiers Corsaires from Algeria before defeating the Morocco Mallers 11-8.

That set the pace for the final game, which saw the only two unbeaten teams battling it out for gold. In the end, Carthage would score the extra goal needed to take the victory, finishing off the tournament with a perfect record for Tunisia’s first championship in an international competition, whether it be with the national team or a club team, at the men’s level.

The tournament was the first ever African Ice Hockey Cup, a tournament designed to help teams in Africa that have very little chances to play. Organized by the Royal Moroccan Ice Hockey Federation, it was a historic tournament on many levels. Of course, Tunisia had their first form of hockey success, but it was also the debut of Egypt at a tournament of this nature. The team failed to take a victory, but they did lose by a close margin of 2-1 in their final game against the Casablanca Bears.

For Algeria and the Moroccan clubs, it was the first time that many of the players had played in an international tournament since the 2008 Arab Cup, the first, and only version of the tournament. 

Ice hockey in Africa is slowly developing, with South Africa being the only team participating in international play. Morocco is currently an IIHF member, while Namibia, who did not take part in the tournament, participates in inline hockey. The hope is to see this tournament grow in the coming years and allow teams in Africa the ability to grow, similar to how the Challenge Cup of Asia has had a positive impact on hockey in the continent.

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Africa Cup starts

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By Martin Merk –
IIHF.com

With 35°C (95°F) announced today in the Moroccan capital of Rabat, ice hockey may not be the first thing to come in mind for locals and tourists walking through the royal city. But going to the cool ice rink at Mega Mall is exactly what six hockey teams from North Africa will do this week.

For the first time the Royal Moroccan Ice Hockey Federation will organize the African Ice Hockey Cup for club teams that will take will start tonight in two groups of three teams followed by the semi-finals on Thursday and the medal games on Saturday. An all-star skills contest will additionally be staged in Casablanca.

This new competition and format gives many players and their six club teams from four countries the first chance to compete across their borders in a region where ice hockey is in its early development.

In Morocco ice hockey is played at malls in the capital of Rabat and a one-hour journey south in Casablanca. The one at Rabat’s Mega Mall is 40 on 20 metres and allows playing 3-on-3 games for the African Cup.

Of the four countries Morocco has reached out the most so far. The national team played in the first and only edition of the Arab Cup organized in 2008 in Abu Dhabi, welcomed teams from France and Spain in Rabat during the past few years, sent peewee teams to Quebec and was part of last year’s World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend.

The Rabat Capitals, the Casablanca Bears and the Morocco Mallers are the three teams from the host country to play in the event. With the biggest ice rink less than half the international size, not everything is perfect to develop the game in Morocco but the conditions in Rabat may still envy the visitors from the other three North African countries to take part in the event.

In Algeria and Tunisia no ice hockey is played and the movement to bring the sport to their countries is led by the diaspora abroad. While there are no competitions in these countries that would allow hockey to grow and give the base to form a national team, the Algerian and Tunisian hockey diaspora convened to form club teams for the tournament in Morocco.

The Algiers Corsaires will come together to represent their country in Morocco. It will be the first such game for many of the players since Algeria played in the 2008 Arab Cup. Like eight years ago the team will be led by British-Algerian forward Karim Kerbouche. All team members play abroad as there are only temporary ice rinks during the winter months at best in Algeria.

In Tunisia the hockey movement is led from Tunisians abroad, in particular by Ihab Ayed, who normally plays for the Courbevoie Coqs in the fourth tier of French hockey. It’s in the Paris suburb where Ayed organized his Tunisian team’s first game in 2014 that ended with a 6-5 win for the local team. In Rabat the team labelled Carthage Eagles will for the first time play against North African rivals.

In Tunisia like in Egypt there are ice rinks but none of them is bigger than 300 square metres, which is one sixth of the area of an international size rink. While the Algiers Corsaires and Carthage Eagles are formed of players from the diaspora in Europe and Canada, the club team from Egypt is actually based in the country where ice hockey competitions take place on the small ice rinks. The Anubis Ice Hockey Team from Cairo will fly from their country to Rabat to become the first Egyptian ice hockey team to play in an international competition abroad.

Host Morocco is the only of these countries that is a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation. The continent’s biggest country in ice hockey is 8,000 kilometres away: South Africa where ice hockey has been played since the ‘30s and that has been playing with its national teams in IIHF competitions since 1961. Additionally, neighbouring country Namibia is an affiliate member of the IIHF that has played in inline hockey.

Schedule Here