Category: North America (Page 1 of 7)

Hockey is making inroads in Mexico. Yes, Mexico

Players in the Jr. Kings youth hockey program in Mexico City skate during drills March 23 at the Centro Santa Fe shopping mall. According to the Mexico Ice Hockey Federation, 1,600 junior players participate in the sport in Mexico.

Kevin Bater  Gary CoronadoLA Times

Ian Tarazona’s black helmet is so big it looks like an upside-down satellite dish, and his oversized hockey sweater hangs to his knees. But don’t let appearances fool you. Ian is a terror on the ice.

At one point during a recent practice, Ian skated up to another player, pulled his stick back and cracked him over the head. And that player was a teammate.

It didn’t qualify as assault because Ian is only 3 years old and the player he whacked, who was unhurt, is 5.

But it did serve as proof that it can be a challenge introducing little kids to any sport. And when the sport is hockey and the location is a shopping mall in Mexico City, that challenge only grows.

Luis González often has to suppress laughter while coaching four dozen kids, the oldest of whom are 7.

“Obviously the little kids are harder because you just have to keep them focused,” he said.

In between coaching sessions, González, who answers to Oso or “Bear,” a childhood nickname he can’t fully explain, plays for Mexico’s national ice hockey team. If you didn’t know Mexico had a national ice hockey team, don’t feel bad. Aside from the 22 players and their families, few others know either.

But the sport is gaining a foothold, or at least a toehold, in Mexico.

According to the Mexico Ice Hockey Federation — there’s one of those too — 2,690 players participate in the sport in Mexico, 1,600 of whom are junior players like the ones González coaches.

It’s a small number — and certainly an underestimate — but it still has drawn the attention of several NHL teams, which see a chance to grow the game and develop a new fan base with the hope of playing an NHL game in Mexico in the near future.

“I don’t see any reason for us to wait,” Kings President Luc Robitaille said. “It’s more important for us to go out of our way and to make it available. There’s enough kids we know like to play.”

Many of them play at an ice rink tucked into a dark corner of a Mexico City shopping mall, between a Dairy Queen and a Carl’s Jr. and below a Sears.

The Centro Santa Fe, Mexico’s second-largest shopping mall, sprawls along a major boulevard in a tony neighborhood of skyscrapers and gated apartment buildings on the western edge of the capital.

Roberto Arriaga, whose three boys all play hockey, makes the three-hour round trip there from Toluca as many as five nights a week, spending almost as much time in the chilly bleachers overlooking the ice as he does running his business in aftermarket car sales.

“A lot of friends tell me that I’m crazy,” said Arriaga, who discovered hockey almost by accident. After introducing his eldest son, Beto, to more traditional sports such as soccer without success, on a whim he put the boy in skates and hockey gear at age 6. Nine years later, Beto is still playing, as are brothers Mateo, a speedy 12-year-old defenseman, and Paulo, a skinny 10-year-old goalie so small he can fit inside the net without having to duck his helmeted head.

The two younger boys say they want to play in the NHL someday, something no Mexican has done. Arriaga chuckles when he hears that.

“At that age,” he said “it’s very good to have a dream.”

That dream isn’t what motivates the four coaches at the rink, who work with more than 140 players in six divisions, ranging in age from 3 years old through high school. Nor is producing professional players what has led the Kings to partner with the rink, offering in-person and virtual clinics as well as material assistance.

Banners touting the relationship with the L.A. team hang throughout the mall while many of the tiny players take the ice wearing black or gray Kings sweaters with a Mexican flag sewn on one shoulder.

The goal, the Kings insist, is simply to introduce the kids to hockey, teach them how to play (and sometimes to even skate) and to fuel a passion for the sport.

“It’s just a totally different vibe over there,” said Derek Armstrong, who spent six seasonplaying for the Kings and is now the team’s community and hockey development specialist. “We want to bring hockey to Mexico, but we also want them to embrace it themselves and put their own little twist on it, their own little culture on it.”

That seems to be taking hold at the Santa Fe rink, where rushes up and down the ice take place at breakneck speed, with few passes and even fewer checks — physical defensive moves intended to disrupt play. In that way, Mexican hockey can sometimes look like soccer on skates.

Instructions and encouragement — vámonos! vámonos! dále! dále! — ring out in Spanish, although most of the hockey terms, like stick and puck, go untranslated.

Paulo Arriaga, 10, protects the goal during practice with the Mexico City Jr. Kings youth hockey program.

What the Kings want to create, then, is hockey with a Mexican accent and Latin sensibility. They’re not looking to import a sport wholesale but rather to create a hybrid. What they want are players such as 15-year-old Paula Martínez, one of two girls in the bantam age group — and one 270 girls playing hockey nationwide, according to the federation.

She started skating at 3 and has been playing hockey with boys almost as long, tucking as much of her long brown hair inside her helmet as she can, then letting the rest spill down to her shoulders. Her friends, she said, don’t understand the game — or why she plays it.

“Every time you say you play hockey, they’re amazed. So you have to explain what it is. They think it’s only fighting, and it’s really not just that,” Paula said, flipping through cellphone photos of a trip to the University of Wisconsin, where she skated with members of the school’s women’s team.

“If I had to choose a sport again,” she said, “I would still choose hockey.”

Many in Mexico don’t have that choice. Cost and access to an ice rink are major obstacles to hockey’s growth in Mexico.

Players in Guillermo Díaz’s program at the Santa Fe rink pay a $125 annual registration fee and $146 a month for instruction and ice time. That doesn’t include the brightly colored composite sticks, durable skates and other equipment such as pads and helmets, which can easily top $1,000 combined — more for goalies.

That’s well beyond the reach of most families in a country where the typical salary hovers around $17,000 a year. And while Mexico City has four rinks, there are just 14 in the rest of the country, according to the national ice hockey federation.

The level of play at the Santa Fe rink varies widely depending on the age group. On a recent Monday night, the peewees’ game, for kids 11 and 12, was so quick and well-played, dozens of shoppers stopped to peer down from the mall’s upper floors and watch.

For the youngest players, meanwhile, simply staying upright and focused is the goal, which is why Díaz spent most of an hourlong practice simply trying to herd his toddler students into a straight line. During one drill, the players, many of whom wore blue COVID facemasks beneath their helmets, set off after the puck only to forget what they were supposed to do with it once they got it.

Kids pulled back their sticks, which were often bigger than they are, then shot at the wrong net, while others simply wandered away in the middle of a drill or skated into one another for no apparent reason. One boy brought his stick to shoulder level like a rifle and pretended to shoot teammates.

Players with the Jr. Kings youth hockey program gather at the end of practice. Cost and access to an ice rink are major obstacles to hockey’s growth in Mexico.

As for Ian, when he wasn’t whacking teammates in the head, he was often lying face down on the ice, the white No. 26 on the back of his jet-black jersey facing the Sears store a floor above.

“You have to invent some things,” González, the coach, said when asked how he kept the youngest players focused.

González’s time with the national team makes him an elite player in a country that has had few success stories to emulate in hockey. That could be changing.

Héctor Majul, who was lured away from a soccer field and into a Mexico City ice rink as a 6-year-old because his sister was a skater, followed his first coach to Arizona, where he attended high school. He practiced there alongside a local standout named Auston Matthews, whose mother was born in Mexico.

While Matthews went on to become the first overall pick in the 2016 NHL draft — and this season has broken the Toronto Maple Leafs’ franchise record with 58 goals — Majul played at Curry College in Massachusetts before being deported back to Mexico after his student visa was suspended.

That led to a nomadic journey that took him to hockey rinks and professional teams in Serbia, Lithuania, Finland and Italy. He will turn 28 next month, far too old to be considered a top prospect but not too old to give up his dream of becoming the first Mexican-born player to reach the NHL.

“Many times, being from Mexico causes people to assume that I can’t play hockey well and they don’t take me seriously until they see me play,” said Majul, who had a career-high 21 goals and 19 assists in 22 games this season for Como in Italy’s second-tier hockey league. “They wonder how it’s possible, which makes me laugh.

“I do think if I was Canadian or American, I definitely would have had better opportunities. But at the same time, it’s part of being the first Mexican to play at the level I’m playing and breaking the mental barrier that the hockey world has of not accepting players who don’t come from countries where hockey is popular.”

The kids at Centro Santa Fe might do even more to change that perception.

“Some of the kids here could play anywhere,” said Ross Wonnick, a Canadian transplant from Calgary whose son, Harrison, 9, just started playing at the rink.

Yet the sport still seems a strange fit in a country that has nearly three times as many international airports as it does ice rinks — and the rinks that do exist are almost always jammed into a lightly trafficked nook of a shopping center.

“I think there’s only one ice rink that isn’t at a mall,” Paula, the 15-year-old center, said with a sigh.

Even so, Paula, her father, Francisco, a researcher at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and dozens of other kids and parents crowd into the dark corner of the Centro Santa Fe as many as five nights a week. And the NHL has taken note.

“We’re definitely going down there to grow the game,” Robitaille, the Kings president, said. “That’s a no-brainer for a team like us, to help grow the game on the south side of the border.”

The team’s outreach to the Latino community began in Southern California but quickly reached south. Those efforts were stalled by COVID-19 but picked up again last fall when Armstrong went to Mexico City to put on a clinic.

Now other teams are following. The Dallas Stars, who play in a market that is more than 40% Latino, have begun broadcasting their games on Spanish-language radio and are developing a relationship with the Mexico Ice Hockey Federation.

“We’re trying to be Mexico’s team,” said Stars President Brad Alberts, who sees that effort as targeting Mexicans and Mexican Americans on both sides of the border in much the same way football’s Dallas Cowboys did. That team now has a license from the NFL allowing it to expand its home marketing base into Mexico.

“We look at it as a long-term, authentic community investment,” Alberts said. “We’re going to look at the Hispanic community in a much different way that we have ever before.”

At some point, Alberts said, that will mean playing a regular-season game in Mexico, as the three other major U.S. pro sports leagues have done. The Kings and Arizona Coyotes have also acknowledged similar hopes.

“We look at [Mexico] as an untapped market,” Alberts said. “We’re trying to capitalize now.”

Back at the Santa Fe rink, it’s apparent Alberts’ timing is right. Kids roll in from the covered parking lot wearing hockey uniforms and riding in-line skates, their parents following behind carrying heavy equipment bags and hockey sticks.

“Saturdays, we stay here from 12 o’clock until nighttime,” said Cindy Rojas, the mother of an excitable rosy-cheeked 5-year-old named Sebastian, whose black No. 17 Kings jersey fits him like a tunic. “I can see that he enjoys it. That’s why it doesn’t matter if we have to come four or five times per week or stay here more than 10 hours.

“It doesn’t matter because I love when he’s happy.”

Latam Cup Is Open For Registration

By George Da Silva – National Teams of Ice Hockey

Since 2018 the Latam Cup has grown to be one of the biggest  hockey tournaments for non-traditional hockey counties. 

It start out just for developing hockey nations in the Americas but last year for the first time a team from outside of the Americas took part in the Latam Cup, and in 2022 the tournament organizers have open for more national teams from outside of the Americas.

The Latam Cup offers many divisions from Senior Men & Women teams to U16 & U12 teams. The goal is to expose has many people to game and grow the game not only in the Americas but around the world.

All games are played in Coral Springs, Florida home of the Florida Panthers training facility 

For eligibility requirements please visit www.amerigolhockey.com and click on Team and Player Eligibility. If your team complies and you would like to register or you have any questions, please contact Latam cup organizers info@amerigolhockey.com for more details.

Maple Ridge man, former NHL player, to captain China’s Olympic hockey team

Maple Ridge’s Brandon Yip will captain Team China at the Olympics

By Niel Corbett – Cranbrook Daily Townsman

Maple Ridge’s Brandon Yip will be captain of the first Chinese hockey team to take part in the Olympics.

The former NHLer, 36, is the leader of the Kunlun Red Star, which is a proxy for the Chinese national team that competes in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

He’s surely had one of the most interesting hockey journeys in Canadian history.

Yip had an NHL career that spanned from the 2009-2010 season until 2013-2014, and saw him skating for the Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators and two games in his last season with the Phoenix Coyotes.

He started climbing the hockey ladder with his hometown Junior B Ridge Meadows Flames, and kept moving up to star with the Junior A Coquitlam Express, NCAA Boston University and then was drafted in the eighth round, 239th overall by the Avalanche. He would play 174 regular season NHL games, putting up 29 goals and 56 points.

When his NHL career ended, Yip jumped to Europe, with a couple of stops in Germany’s DEL.

Since 2017-2018 he has played in Russian’s KHL, mostly with the Kunlun Red Star, which is based in Beijing.

He is Mr. Everything for the team – the captain, the first in the franchise to get 100 points, and the second to play 200 games. The latter milestones he reached in recent months.

His mother Gale said she and husband Wayne went to watch him play in a game in Shanghai in 2017, and it was pretty obvious the people were new to Canada’s national sport of winter.

As Brandon and the opposing team captain lined up at centre ice for a ceremonial opening faceoff, a dignitary was handed the puck to conduct the faceoff and officially start the contest. However, he didn’t know he was supposed to drop the puck.

“He hucked it across the ice,” Gale said with a laugh. “It’s a new sport over there.”

She and her husband are Canadian born, but their son is eligible to represent China under international rules because he has grandparents on both sides who were born in China. She said it was a memorable trip.

“It’s an amazing country, with amazing cities.”

The NHL will not allow its players to participate in the Games, which begin on Feb. 4 in Beijing, China, so the tournament teams are rosters of retired NHL players, European professionals, college players and minor pro players.

The Chinese team has been ranked 32nd in the world, and is at the bottom of the KHL standings this season. However, Kunlun coach Ivano Zanatta says the Chinese team will be the equal of teams like Norway and Denmark. Their chances of playing competitive games got a boost with the announcement the NHL would not participate.

U.S. women’s hockey team enjoying experience with N.M. Ice Wolves

Alex Carpenter, left, of the USA Women’s Hockey team, battles the Ice Wolves’ Blayde Pogreba for the puck during Monday’s game at the Outpost Ice Arenas.

By Patrick Newell – Albuquerque Journal

Coming off a recent tight loss to longtime rival Canada two weeks ago, the USA women’s hockey team was eager to get back on the ice.

Plans for a quick turnaround to right the ship were curtailed when an exhibition with Russia was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the Russian team.

That left the women’s team with an open date, which opened the door for a rare exhibition Monday and Tuesday at Outpost Ice Arenas, home of the New Mexico Ice Wolves.

“Things change all the time, and you have to adapt and adjust,” said USA women’s coach Joel Johnson, who was appointed head coach this summer.

“When you’re playing in a pandemic year, everything is crazy for all of us. We’re just so appreciative of Stan Hubbard (Ice Wolves owner), the Ice Wolves, the town, and the whole community. It’s been an unbelievable experience because we wouldn’t have had an opportunity to play games (this week). It’s a privilege to be here and we’re excited about it.”

Staying on schedule is critical for high-level athletes. Aside from the every-day practices, off-ice training, diet, and conditioning, taking the ice against quality competition is the best test of the Americans’ progress.

“I hope (it’s a competitive game), that’s why we’re here,” said USA team veteran forward, Hilary Knight. “When I’m playing boys, I recall the memories playing against my brothers, and it’s some of the most fun hockey that I’ve played. I’m looking forward to a good night, and to work on things we need to work on going into February.”

The Ice Wolves are coming off a 3-0 win on Sunday, and do not have a scheduled game until Friday’s home date against Wichita Falls. When presented with the opportunity to face the USA team, Ice Wolves head coach Phil Fox said it was an easy decision.

“Stan gave me a call, and he asked if we were willing to have (the USA team) come play our team. I said absolutely,” Fox said. “It’s a pretty unique experience. There aren’t a lot of times the US team is coming to Albuquerque, New Mexico, let alone play our group of guys. We’ve never done anything like that.”

Dillan Bentley, a co-captain for the Ice Wolves, remembered watching the USA team capture gold at 2018. He said he’s never played a competitive game at this level against women, but he does expect he and his teammates will play their own game.

“I’m not sure what to expect,” Bentley said. “They’re the best of the best, and they’re there for a reason. Everyone respects what they’ve been through, and to get where they are in their hockey careers.”

Speaking of new experiences, as well traveled as the USA women’s team is, few have breathed the crisp mountain air of the Land of Enchantment.

“I think there are only two players on our team that have been to the state of New Mexico, so this is definitely a new experience,” said USA team captain, Kendall Coyne-Schofield. “‘It’s an experience we’re embracing, and we’re excited to play the Ice Wolves. We’re thankful they opened their schedule for us because it was last minute, and it’s an opportunity to play against them and be here where we’ve never been before. Hopefully, we’ll inspire some young kids along the way.”

UP NEXT: Tuesday’s game is at 6:30 p.m. at Outpost Ice Arenas.

MONDAY GAME RECAP: The Ice Wolves turned back an early third-period rally, scoring three goals to beat the U.S. women’s team 7-3. Team USA trailed 4-1 after two periods, but closed to 4-3 after goals from Alex Carpenter and Britta Curl — the latter with 13:13 remaining.

Ice Wolves’ Jack Dalton countered two minutes later and Nicolas Haviar and Blayde Pogreba tacked on insurance goals.

The Ice Wolves had a 40-27 advantage in shots on goal. … Only two penalties were called, both on the Ice Wolves.

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.”

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.

Ryan the latest name on Team Canada’s coaching carousel

Troy Ryan is the bench boss for Canadian Women’s National ice Hockey team

By Meaghen Johnson – TSN

Canada’s women’s hockey team has been riding a coaching carousel for the past decade.

The team has had nine different head coaches since 2010, including five different faces behind the bench since Canada last won gold at the 2012 IIHF Women’s World Championship, led by Dan Church. 

Troy Ryan is the current bench boss. He took over the role in January 2020 and is now charged with ending Canada’s nine-year gold-medal drought at next month’s 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Calgary. All of Canada’s games can be seen live on TSN.  

To understand how we got to this point, let’s take a closer look at Ryan and his four most recent predecessors, dating back to the last time Canada won gold at the world championship in 2012.

Kevin Dineen
Years active: 2013-2014
World Championship: none 
Olympics: Gold (2014)

Dineen took over for Dan Church, who abruptly resigned as head coach late in 2013, less than two months before the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

Church had led Canada to gold at the 2012 IIHF Women’s World Championship, but at the time of his resignation, he said he felt there were doubts within Hockey Canada about his ability to lead the team to gold at the Olympics.  

He told the Canadian Press, “If there isn’t confidence in what I’m doing, I need to step aside and let the team move on.”  

The following week, Hockey Canada announced Dineen as Church’s successor. Dineen had recently been fired as head coach of the Florida Panthers after just over two seasons with the club. While he had international experience as a player, he had no previous coaching experience with the national team or in the women’s game.

It was an inauspicious start to Dineen’s tenure. He lost his coaching debut 4-1 to the United States in an exhibition match, which was followed by two more defeats to the Americans in a tune-up series before the Olympics. 

Ahead of the tournament, Dineen named Caroline Ouellette as captain over Hayley Wickenheiser.

“There is a tremendous amount of experience in our dressing room, and there is no shortage of qualified candidates to wear a letter,” Dineen said in a statement.

Dineen led Canada to a perfect 3-0 record in the preliminary round in Sochi, including a 3-2 victory over the U.S. In the inevitable rematch between the rivals in the gold-medal game, the Americans led 2-0 with under four minutes left.

But two quick goals from Canada – including one from Marie-Phillip Poulin with under a minute to go – sent the game to overtime, where Poulin provided the heroics once again with the winner.

Dineen later revealed that Poulin’s golden goal – which came on a Canadian 4-on-3 power play – wasn’t the play he had originally drawn up.  

“You know what? They got the puck on the right stick,” he said.

Dineen’s tenure ended as suddenly as it began. On March 20, Dineen left the women’s team after just over three months on the job to become the head coach of the Canadian men’s Under-18 team for the 2014 IIHF World U18 Championship, where the squad won bronze.  

Doug Derraugh
Years active: 2014-2015
World Championship: Silver (2015)

Derraugh took over in July 2014 for the start of a new Olympic four-year cycle. Derraugh was a former assistant with the women’s national team from 2011-2012, winning a gold medal with the team at the 2012 IIHF Women’s World Championship.

At the time of his hire, he had just completed his ninth season as head coach of Cornell University’s women’s hockey team, where he is the winningest coach in the program’s history. Derraugh is still behind the bench with the Big Red and has amassed a record of 295-152-45 and four Frozen Four appearances.

Derraugh brought a familiarity with the team and the women’s game that his predecessor lacked. He was already acquainted with several key players like Laura Fortino, Brianne Jenner, and Rebecca Johnston after coaching them at Cornell.

For the 2014 Four Nations Cup, Canada’s roster had 10 players who would make their debuts with the national team, including current mainstays like goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer and forward Blayre Turnbull. Canada would win their 14th title at the event, beating the U.S. 3-2 in a shootout to claim gold.

At the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship, Canada once again boasted a younger roster, which had an average age of just over 24. Ten players were making their women’s worlds debut. In a wild final against the United States, Canada ended up losing 7-5 in the highest-scoring gold-medal match in tournament history. The Canadians erased a pair of three-goal deficits but were ultimately outgunned by their rivals.

Derraugh left his role as head coach before the 2015 Four Nations Cup, but he has remained involved with the team throughout the years and is currently an assistant coach with the squad.  

Laura Schuler
Years active: 2015-2018
World Championship: Silver (2016, 2017)
Olympics: Silver (2018) 

In their next hire, Hockey Canada made history with Schuler, the first former player on the national team to serve as head coach.

As a player, Schuler won three gold medals at the women’s worlds, including at the inaugural event in 1990, as well as silver at Nagano in 1998 when women’s hockey made its Olympic debut.  

She had previously served as an assistant with the national team, as well as head coach of the women’s under-18 squad that won gold at the 2014 IIHF U18 Women’s World Championship. Schuler became the first woman to serve as head coach for Canada since Melody Davidson, the team’s former general manager, stepped down from her coaching duties in 2010.

But despite her pedigree as a player, Schuler never led Canada to gold at any major tournament as a head coach. Under Schuler, the Canadians won a combined five silver medals at the women’s worlds and Four Nations Cup and were also runners-up at the 2018 Olympics.

Schuler began her head coaching tenure with a silver medal at the 2015 Four Nations Cup, losing to the United States twice, including an overtime loss in the gold-medal game. That was followed by two more losses to the Americans at the 2016 IIHF Women’s World Championship in Kamloops, B.C. The gold-medal match was a close battle, but the U.S. edged Canada 1-0 in overtime to deny their rivals of gold on home ice for a second time in three years.

“I believe that we have the personnel to [win],” Schuler told TSN after the game. “They won the luck of the draw this time around… Next time, we’ll make sure we take care of it.” 

But it was more of the same in 2017, with the U.S. once again defeating Canada in overtime to win 3-2 and claim women’s worlds gold on home ice for the first time in Plymouth, Mich. It was a discouraging run-up to the 2018 Olympics for Canada, who finished with just two wins in five games and lost to Finland for the first time ever in the preliminary round.

Despite the unprecedented loss, a Sports Illustrated report said Schuler “was adamant that there weren’t problems to fix.” Hockey Canada seemingly agreed and awarded Schuler with the coaching position for the 2018 Olympics, charging her with leading Canada to a fifth straight Olympic gold.

All signs seemed to point to Canada continuing its Olympic dominance. In an exhibition series against the United States before the Olympics, Canada won five of the six games. The five straight victories came after the Canadians dropped the opener 5-2, and Schuler called the game “an embarrassment to our country.”

At the PyeongChang Games, the Canadians continued to roll, beating the Americans 2-1 in the preliminary round, and in the gold-medal rematch, they were six minutes away from claiming another title. The Canadians led 2-1 late in the third period until Monique Lamoreux tied it on a breakaway, and her sister Jocelyn scored the winner in the shootout to give the Americans their first Olympic gold since 1998.  

Canada’s run of Olympic gold came to an end, as did Schuler’s time as head coach.

Perry Pearn
Years active: 2018-2020
World Championship: Bronze (2019)

Pearn, who was an assistant under Schuler at PyeongChang, took over as bench boss for the new Olympic cycle. He brought more than two decades of experience as an assistant coach in the NHL, as well as some international pedigree, leading Canada to gold at the 1993 IIHF World Junior Championships.

Ahead of the 2018 Four Nations Cup, Pearn told the Canadian Press that he “would probably be willing to make a commitment to [coach] the next Olympic Games.” Pearn was also the first hire for new general manager Gina Kingsbury, who took over the role from Davidson.

“Winning is important. It really is,” Kingsbury told the Canadian Press. “When it comes down to the first Four Nations of a new quad, to me it’s about getting back to a winning culture.”

But it was more silver hardware for Canada at the 2018 Four Nations Cup, with the team losing 5-2 to the Americans in the gold-medal game. It was the fourth straight title for the United States at the Four Nations Cup, and things would get worse for Pearn and Canada at the 2019 IIHF Women’s World Championship.

The Canadians would fall 3-2 to the Americans yet again in the preliminary round, their eighth straight loss to their rivals at the women’s worlds. But this time there would be no gold-medal rematch. Finland, playing on home ice in Espoo, upset Canada 4-2 in the semifinal to advance to the final. Finnish goaltender Noora Räty finished with 43 saves and stymied the Canadians’ attack.  

“We should be really disappointed,” Pearn told TSN after the game. “We played much, much better than we showed today earlier in the tournament… Very disappointed that when we hit some adversity, we seemed to completely lose track of what it is we do as a team.”

Canada would regroup and easily take bronze with a 7-0 win over Russia, but it was still the team’s worst-ever finish at a major tournament.

“You have to be happy with the end result,” Pearn said postgame. “I think the takeaway for the whole group is we need to change some things. We need to get better. There’s no question that we’re capable of being very successful, but that’s not going to happen until some changes are made.”  

But Pearn wouldn’t get the opportunity to face the United States in another tournament. The 2019 edition of the Four Nations Cup was cancelled after ongoing contract disputes between the Swedish Ice Hockey Federation and the women’s national team players.

Canada and the United States played in a two-game exhibition series in place of the tournament, but Ryan was head coach for the mini-series, with Pearn serving as an assistant. Canada won both games.

At the end of the year, the Canadians and Americans began a five-game Rivalry Series, with Pearn back as head coach and Ryan named an assistant. The United States won the opener 4-1, and three days later edged the Canadians again by a score of 2-1, dropping Pearn’s record against the Americans to 2-6.

That spelled the end of Pearn’s tenure. On Jan. 9, 2020, Pearn was fired as head coach, with Ryan taking over. Kingsbury told the Canadian Press that a change in leadership was needed.  

“Sometimes you respond differently to different leaders, and I think this was the change this particular group needed,” she said. “We certainly don’t regret having him on board for the past year and a half. Sometimes, someone else needs to be crossing the finish line.”

Troy Ryan
Years active: 2020-present
World Championship: none 

This brings us to the Ryan era for the Canadian women.  He has been on the coaching staff since 2016, including winning silver with the squad at the 2018 Olympics.

A native of Spryfield, N.S., Ryan is deeply involved with his home province. He spent three seasons as head coach and general manager of the Maritime Hockey League’s Campbellton Tigers and was the Atlantic Canada female coach mentor with Canadian Sport Centre Atlantic (CSCA). Last summer he became head coach of Dalhousie University’s women’s hockey team.  

Ryan took over as Canada’s head coach for the final three games of the Rivalry Series against the Americans in 2020. While Canada won Ryan’s official debut as head coach by a score of 3-2, the team dropped the last two games of the series, losing four of the five total games. 

Ryan was set to return to his home province this past spring for the IIHF Women’s World Championship, which was scheduled to take place in Halifax and Truro. However, the government of Nova Scotia ultimately cancelled the tournament, resulting in it being rescheduled and moved to Calgary in August.

In May, Ryan was named the head coach of the team for next year’s Olympics in Beijing. 

“He’s a very deliberate coach,” Kingsbury told the Canadian Press. 

“Even if he hasn’t had the chance or the opportunity to have a whole lot of camps or events with our group, even how he’s managed our group in this pandemic, and the relationships he’s built, the trust he’s built, these players want to play for him. He is the guy to lead us for sure.”

Stewart raising Jamaica’s game as national team co-coach

Former NHL forward aims to inspire squad, which hopes to qualify for Olympics

By William Douglas  – NHL.com

Chris Stewart took the unsolicited email as a sign.

The 33-year-old former NHL forward was grieving the recent deaths of relatives in Jamaica when the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation (JOIHF) reached out to him to inquire whether he’d be interested in becoming a co-coach and hockey ambassador for its national team.

“I had an uncle die of cancer that was living in Jamaica and two weeks after that I had another uncle die of COVID on Jamaica,” Stewart said. “To say that Jamaica was on my heart and mind at the time was a massive understatement. I’m a big believer that everything kind of happens for a reason.”

Now Stewart is on a mission to help Jamaica defend its 2019 Amerigol LATAM Cup championship Oct. 14-17 at the Florida Panthers practice facility in Coral Springs, Florida, and boost the Caribbean country’s effort to one day compete in the Winter Olympics.

After Stewart received the email, he spoke with Sean Caple, JOIHF director of hockey operations, in May about the team comprised mostly of Canadian players of Jamaican heritage, including co-captain Jaden Lindo, a forward selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round (No. 173) of the 2014 NHL Draft.

Jamaica defeated Colombia 3-2 in a shootout to capture the LATAM Cup in 2019

“We got talking about where they’re going and the vision of the federation going forward, and we just aligned,” said Stewart, whose father, Norman, migrated to Montreal from Jamaica in the early 1970s and quickly became a Canadiens fan. “There’s a foundation there, for sure.”

Jamaica defeated Colombia 3-2 in a shootout to capture the LATAM Cup in a tournament that also featured men’s and women’s teams representing Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Falkland Islands. The tournament was canceled in 2020 due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.

“Winning that trophy, I can’t tell you how important that was for Jamaica,” JOIHF president Don Anderson said. “It made … Jamaica proud of the team because, obviously, not very many people in Jamaica knew we had a hockey team.”

Anderson said Stewart’s hire adds the exclamation point to Jamaica’s effort and Olympic ambitions.

Team Jamaica 2019

Selected by the Colorado Avalanche with the No. 18 pick in the 2006 NHL Draft, Stewart scored 322 points (160 goals, 162 assists) in 668 NHL games with seven teams from 2008-20, and 11 points (six goals, five assists) in 39 Stanley Cup Playoff games. He also played for Canada at the 2011 IIHF World Championship in Bratislava and Kosice, Slovakia.

“Chris is going to bring tremendous expertise, knowledge in the sport of hockey,” Anderson said. “He also has tremendous influence within bigger hockey circles, the NHL and IIHF and we expect that we will be able to use some of that experience and know how that Chris has to be able to present programs that we believe will be worthwhile enough for the two bodies to support us on.”

Stewart will join former NHL defenseman Jamie Huscroft behind the Jamaica bench. Huscroft scored 38 points (five goals, 33 assists) in 352 NHL games with seven teams from 1988-2000 and one assist in 21 playoff games.

Anderson said Stewart is already paying dividends in his hockey ambassador role. One of his first acts was to connect the JOIHF with the NHL Players’ Association Goals & Dreams fund to apply for a donation of hockey equipment to help grow the game in Jamaica.

The fund is the world’s largest grassroots hockey program, providing more than 80,000 children in 34 countries the opportunity to play the sport over the past 21 years through equipment donations. It has donated more than $25 million to help grow the game of hockey.

“I just connected the dots, I know the PA and know they’re always looking for things to help out on,” Stewart said. “Yeah, they’ve been speaking and, hopefully, we can build the relationship into something that can materialize into something good.”

Jamaica would join Costa Rica as the second Caribbean country to benefit from the Goals & Dreams fund if the JOIHF’s application is approved.

Stewart hopes to further assist the effort in Jamaica by being one of five North American coaches at a week-long hockey clinic at the G.C. Foster College of Physical Education and Sport in St. Catherine, Jamaica, which has added the sport to its curriculum.

“We anticipate 25 to 50, even more kids,” Caple said. “It would be free of charge. We’re going to go through a lot of the basic skills and concepts of hockey that you would on the ice rink.”

Jamaica’s biggest hurdle to full IIHF membership and Olympic qualification is the lack of a skating rink on the island. Anderson said JOIHF officials hope Stewart’s presence and hockey resume will help serve as a selling point in getting one built.

There were reports in 2019 that a Canadian investor was interested in building a rink as part of a resort on the island’s north coast and Anderson told Jamaican media the federation has spoken with some private companies about constructing a synthetic ice sheet as a short-term solution.

In the meantime, Stewart is keeping his eyes on the prize that potentially awaits in Coral Springs in October.

“We’ve gone from the hunter to the hunted. We’re the defending champs,” he said. “We’re the measuring stick, right? So it’s no different than Tampa Bay (Lightning) or Chicago (Blackhawks) when they were going through it. Every team is preparing to beat you that night. We’re the measuring stick.”

El Paso Rhinos announce expanded Mexico Hockey partnership

Source: El Paso Herald-Post

Officials with El Paso’s championship winning hockey franchise – the Rhinos – announced this week that the club will expand their partnership with Mexico’s national hockey organization as well as the Ice Hockey Workshop Group of Mexico.

“The Mexican and El Paso Hockey communities have similar roots. It’s challenging to grow and develop in a non-traditional hockey market,” shared El Paso Hockey Association and El Paso Owner Cory Herman. “So we think it’s really important to come together and give every hockey player within our communities the opportunity to succeed.”

Since 2019, the El Paso Hockey Association and the Rhinos have worked with the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation.

After months of discussion and planning between Rhino General Manager Corey Heon and the Technical Director of the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation, Diego de la Garma, the U18 Mexican National team traveled to El Paso to play an exhibition game against the Rhinos in 2019.

The series was so successful and well received by both the El Paso and Mexican hockey communities that Heon and de la Garma decided it would be mutually beneficial to broaden the scope of the organizations’ relationship.

Now, not only will the Rhinos work with the Mexican Hockey Federation, they will also collaborate with Ice Hockey Workshop (IHW), an ice hockey development program based in Mexico City.

The IHW, led by Diego de la Garma, includes three teams: the Osos, the Bufalo and Stars.

“We are super excited to expand our working relationship with the de la Garmas, Ice Hockey Workshop and the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation. Our goal is to help further develop hockey in Latin America and help top players get to the next level. By working together, we create unique opportunities for our youth on both sides of the border. The future is bright,” Heon said.

The Rhinos and Ice Hockey Workshop intend to host workshops, coaching clinics and camps for youth and junior players on both sides of the border. Rhino Country also plans to host the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation’s Men’s Mexican National Team, Women’s Mexican National Team and youth national teams for exhibition games.

“It’s a huge honor for us to be able to work with such a successful organization. It will really help our top players to take the next step and eventually develop Mexican hockey at the next level while promoting hockey within the Latin American community all over the United States,” de la Garma explained.

To the excitement of both hockey communities, the bridge between Mexico and El Paso hockey is already being crossed. Last month, the Rhinos’ NA3HL team announced they had tendered Said Ayala, a member of the U18 and U20 Mexican National teams as well as the Bufalos Metepec Club team.

Just two weeks ago, five Mexican Ice Hockey Federation players suited up for Rhino teams at the NAHL Mega Camp in Blaine, MN. Additionally, there is currently a former Lady Rhino in Mexico City vying for a spot on the Women’s Mexican National Team.

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