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.
It is the last of the old, great records, and it is gone. Patrick Marleau, from tiny Aneroid, Saskatchewan, has now played more regular-season games in the NHL than any other of the nearly 8,100 players who have skated in the league between 1917 and today.
Marleau played in his 1,768th game Monday night at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas while playing for the San Jose Sharks, the team with which he has played more than any other. The 41-year-old surpasses Gordie Howe, from the equally tiny Floral, Saskatchewan, who played 26 seasons in the NHL before retiring at age 52 in 1980, his fifth decade of play.
“It was definitely a long ride,” Marleau said after the record-breaking game. “I’m very grateful and blessed that I was able to do this with all the support I’ve had over my career. It’s something I’ll never forget… It was a really special night. You don’t have these nights without teammates, without great organizations. Definitely have those covered for sure.”
Howe’s record was one of the longest lasting in league history, having survived more than 41 years. In third place is Mark Messier, who played in 1,756 games before retiring in 2005 prior to the start of the new season and after missing all of 2004/05 because of the lockout.
Marleau is not the oldest player in the league today. That distinction goes to Slovak defenceman Zdeno Chara, who is 43 and who was drafted in 1996. Marleau was selected 2nd overall in 1997, one behind Joe Thornton, who is the second oldest player this season at 41 for the Maple Leafs.
But what separates Marleau from everyone else is not only his longevity but his consistent resilience. As of now, he has an Iron Man Streak of 894 consecutive games, the 4th-longest in NHL history. He last missed a game on 7 April 2009.
When Howe retired, he led the league in career goals, assists, points, and games played. Wayne Gretzky wiped out the first three, and now Marleau has taken care of the last. But one record that no one has come close to breaking is Howe’s record of 22 straight seasons of 20 goals or more. Ron Francis had 20, and three players had 19 – Brendan Shanahan, Jaromir Jagr, and Dave Andreychuk.
“I think dad would be very thrilled and the first one out on the ice to applaud Patrick on this really incredible milestone,” Murray Howe, one of Gordie’s four sons, said of Marleau’s achievement.
Marleau had surpassed the hallowed 500-goal and 1,000-point marks earlier in his career, but his other greatest claim to fame is a record he doesn’t want to own. He has played more games in the regular season and playoffs than anyone else without winning the Stanley Cup. He has played parts of 21 seasons with the Sharks over three stints, but in two years with Toronto he never came close and at the end of the 2019/20 season, after a trade to Pittsburgh, he lost in the first round. In all, he has played in 20 playoff seasons and 195 games, coming closest to the Cup in 2016 when San Jose advanced to the finals, only to lose to Sidney Crosby and the Penguins in six games.
Marleau may not have won the Cup, but his international career with Team Canada has few equals in the modern game. He won Olympic gold in both 2010 and 2014, playing alongside Crosby, and he also won gold at the 2003 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship and silver two years later.
Marleau’s durability in a high-paced and physical league have set him apart from the rest. Although he has never won an individual league trophy, he is respected league-wide for his sportsmanship and dedication, his love of the game and his leadership in the dressing room.
Marleau has scored 25 goals or more in a season 13 times, peaking in 2009/10 when he had 44. In 2005/06, he had 86 points, the most of his career. He has always been known as a balanced player, one who can score and pass and create offence in many ways. He leads the Sharks in virtually every significant statistical category, and no doubt when he retires his number 12 will be raised to the rafters of the SAP Center.
Above all, his games played record is one born of passion.
“I just love it,” Marleau said about playing hockey every night, every year. “There’s nothing else like it.”
And for the record, the Knights won the game, 3-2, in a shootout. Marleau took the first shootout shot for the Sharks but was stopped by goalie Robin Lehner.
In some aspects, Blackhawks prospect Isaak Phillips has followed a typical hockey path.
His mother is Finnish. He grew up an hour outside Toronto. He worked his way up through Canadian juniors, including two years with Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League. He was drafted by the Hawks in the fifth round in October and signed his NHL entry-level contract March 31.
In other aspects, however, Phillips’ background and path have been different. He is Black. His father hails from the Caribbean island of St. Vincent. And, in 2018, he played on what was essentially the first Jamaican hockey team.
‘‘That was a pretty awesome experience to have a team full of kids that look like you,’’ Phillips, 19, said. ‘‘You look around, and everyone looks the same. It was a fun summer tournament and hopefully something that can put Team Jamaica on the map.’’
Jamaica became an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) in 2012, and the momentum to grow hockey in the island nation of 2.9 million has taken off in recent years.
It started with that 2018 team, which competed in the Team Elite Prospect Hockey Showcase tournament in Toronto and won, going undefeated in eight games.
‘‘We needed to go ahead and field a team ourselves, so we could show people that this was a probable idea,’’ said E.J. Phillipps, the co-founder and CEO of the Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation (JOIHF). ‘‘Isaak did a tremendous job coming and really helping elevate the team — and himself, as well — to get the maximum exposure for us to move forward.’’
Team Jamaica at the 2018 TEP Tournament celebrates their championship
That team was made up of Canadian-born under-20 players with various Caribbean ancestries. In the time since, however, the JOIHF has expanded its player-outreach programs enough that it now uses only players with specifically Jamaican ancestry.
Board member Gary Smith said it has developed a 75-player prospect list spanning Canadian junior leagues, college hockey conferences and pro minor leagues.
Jamaica fielded a roster in the 2019 LatAm Cup — a tournament in Florida that included 21 teams from Central and South American countries — and won that tournament, too. After the 2020 edition was canceled because of COVID-19, it will seek to defend its title in October.
And Jamaica has its eyes on greater heights, including Olympic participation. The JOIHF has designed and is raising money for a multipurpose ice rink in Kingston, which would allow the country to become a full IIHF member. And it debuted a hockey class with 42 students enrolled this semester at G.C. Foster College in Spanish Town.
The goal is to develop a national hockey program similar to that of Mexico, which has competed in the IIHF’s Division II World Championships since 2000 and has about 2,700 registered adult players.
‘‘[We want] to continue to grow the program at the grassroots level in Jamaica, which would start with a street-hockey, roller-hockey transition scenario, developing young children at the school level,’’ Smith said. ‘‘Five years from now, hopefully the rink will be built and we’ll have learn-to-skate and learn-to-play hockey programs.
‘‘That’ll really be the start, genuinely, of Jamaican-born players developing into legitimate ice-hockey players.’’
Phillips can take pride in his contributions to the start of this movement. He has become the first JOIHF alum to sign an NHL contract and hopes to become the first to play in the NHL in the not-too-distant future.
Special rules during the pandemic gave Phillips the rare opportunity to play in the American Hockey League this season as a 19-year-old, and he admitted he arrived in Rockford with ‘‘pretty low expectations.’’ He wasn’t sure whether he was just there to practice and improve under the Hawks’ development staff or whether he would play in regular-season games.
It turned out to be the latter. The 6-3 defenseman has played in 16 of the IceHogs’ first 21 games, recording six points and learning how to adapt to the next level.
‘‘You just learn to think the pro game,’’ Phillips said. ‘‘In junior [hockey], you can get away with some stuff — an extra move or holding on to [the puck] for an extra second. But here, everything is going quick, quick, quick. Everyone in this league can play at the next level and everyone is fighting to get there, so you just learn little tendencies and little tips and tricks: how to move the puck quicker, how to use your body.
‘‘I try to learn something new after each game . . . and then I try to be a quick study, get that into my game right away and show them I can be really coachable.’’
When Phillips received the contract offer late last month, he called his parents to break the news, and ‘‘some tears of joy’’ were shed.
The three-year deal officially kicks in next season. Phillips knows he’ll be back in the AHL next fall, but he’s hoping to make his NHL debut at some point during the season.
That would make history for Team Jamaica, but Phillips hopes it eventually won’t be seen as notable at all.
‘‘We are coming up in the sport,’’ he said. ‘‘As you see more Black players in the game, it’s going to help out the younger generations. For me, I know when you see a couple of Black players in the NHL, it inspired me to keep chasing my dreams.’’
(From left) Jaden Lindo, co-captain of the LATAM Cup winning team; Don Anderson, director of JOIHF; Minister of Sports, Olivia Grange; and Teegan Moore, co-captain of the team, on the occasion of their visit to the minister after the LATAM Cup victory
Having made its initial foray in the Winter Olympic Games with the bobsled team, Jamaica is now forging ahead with plans to enter an ice hockey team as well.
The Jamaica Under-20 team in 2017 impressed many with their 5-1 victory over a Nova Scotia (Canada) All Star team, comprising the best college players in the region.
Since then the senior team competed in the Latin American (LATAM) Cup for the first time in 2019, beating defending champions Colombia, runners-up Argentina, as well as Mexico and Brazil, to win the coveted trophy. The onset of COVID-19 prevented the team from defending the trophy in 2020, but the team is gearing up to defend the trophy in September or October this year.
As part of this plan, there have been numerous developments geared towards building the sport, locally and internationally, to enable the team to play in Olympic Qualifying tournaments in the near future.
Big recruitment program under way
The Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation (JOIHF) has launched a massive recruitment drive to enlist players of Jamaican descent currently playing ice hockey in the US, Canada and Europe. So far, this totals approximately 70 players, some of whom were part of the winning LATAM team in 2019. A major drive, through all existing channels, is under way to strengthen this roster of players.
Discussions with coaches
JOIHF is currently finalising discussions with two very experienced coaches and National Hockey League (NHL) alumni, who have both expressed an interest in working with the team to defend the LATAM Cup. The coaches know each other and are prepared to partner with JOIHF as co-coaches. Former ice hockey players themselves, they each have played over 400 games in the NHL, and are now heavily involved in managing ice rinks and hockey programmers at youth and adult levels. Details are being finalised and will be released very shortly.
Additional hockey and business expertise
In addition to the co-coaches, JOIHF now has on board two other highly experienced ice hockey personnel. One is Gary Smith, who played professionally in Europe, has coached the game at the youth through adult levels, and has 24 years of experience in ice rink development, including design and equipment selection, throughout the USA. The other, Sean Caple, also a former hockey player, has managed ice rinks, developed hockey programmers, and coached teams in the USA. He was one of the original members of the ice hockey personnel that visited Jamaica in 2010, at the launch of the program, and who met with Minister of Sports Olivia Grange then.
The other recent major addition to the team is Cindi Dixon, a financial, marketing, and organizational leadership consultant, who has vast corporate and investment banking experience in the US and other regions, as well as business interests in Jamaica.
MOU with G C Foster College
Last year, JOIHF signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with G C Foster College to develop a grass-roots program, which is a prerequisite for Olympic qualifying. The curriculum for the course will fall under the coaches and business degree program, and is being developed incorporating content provided by the International Ice Hockey Federation, as well as assistance from other world-class coaching organizations.
In the meantime, the organizers of the LATAM Cup have already expressed their delight that Jamaica will be back to defend the trophy, and are eagerly awaiting the country’s participation. The tournament has already attracted significant new interest because of the excitement created by Jamaica’s participation, and ultimate victory, in 2019.
Shane Wright’s never accepted losing. Not even as a toddler.
“Shane has this other edge,” his mother, Tanya, told theScore. “When he was young I had to discipline him for it. It was embarrassing. It would be like three-year-old ‘sportball,’ and he would be losing his mind at three-year-olds who weren’t doing it right or trying hard enough.”
Wright’s competitiveness extends beyond sports, even boiling over into family game nights.
“There’s been the odd board that has ended upside down before it’s over,” his father, Simon, said.
Wright admitted his intensity always shows up, regardless of what’s at stake.
“Everything I do, I want to win,” he said. “I’m also kind of a perfectionist. I hold myself to high standards. I want to win in whatever I do. Whether it’s a board game or a sport or whatever it is, I’m competitive and I want to win it.”
That competitive nature and that will to win, while sometimes embarrassing for his parents when he was growing up, has helped Wright blossom into a potential generational hockey player. Even though he’s only 16 years old and not NHL draft eligible until 2022, he’s already drawn comparisons to Connor McDavid, Sidney Crosby, and John Tavares – the next ones that came before him.
Wright was granted exceptional status into the OHL last year as a 15-year-old, and scored 39 goals and finished with 66 points in 58 games with the Kingston Frontenacs. His point total matched McDavid’s from his age-15 season, but Wright played five fewer games. Of the five players before Wright to be granted exceptional status into the CHL (Tavares, Aaron Ekblad, McDavid, Sean Day, and Joe Veleno), only Tavares had more points in his rookie season (77 in 65 games).
The talent’s obvious. Already listed at 6-feet and 183 pounds – and still growing – Wright’s a strong skater with a heavy shot and elite hockey IQ. Talent only takes a player so far, though. Intangibles are what make Wright special enough to be mentioned in the same conversations as McDavid, Crosby, and Tavares.
“I think what Shane brings is that quiet, unassuming leadership with his drive and determination,” NHL director of central scouting Dan Marr said. “When other players on a team see that the best player is out there as the hardest worker, and wanting to win every battle, wanting to be on every puck, wanting to make things happen out there, that’s infectious.”
Marr has a wide lens on the game’s top prospects and even though his primary focus is generally on the immediate draft class, he still watched Wright in person “about a half dozen times” this season.
Frontenacs assistant coach Luca Caputi, meanwhile, had a front-row seat to observe Wright on a daily basis during his Rookie of the Year season in the OHL. He was equally impressed by his work ethic, maturity, and leadership.
“Every young player that comes through our organization for the next two years will look up to him, just because of the way he does it right every day,” Caputi – who spent parts of three seasons in the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs – said.
“When you have those intangibles – and I was lucky enough to play with Crosby – when you’re the best player and you work the hardest and you have the right goals and you’re a good person off the ice, people follow you. People you want around are going to follow you.”
Wright became the youngest player in CHL history to get a letter on his jersey when he was named assistant captain in December. Caputi thinks he could “100%” be an NHL captain someday.
“I talk a lot about being like Crosby, and that’s not fair, and a lot of pressure to put on a kid, but I see some of those similarities just in the way he goes about his business,” Caputi added.
Crosby and Wright possess different on-ice strengths – the former’s more of a playmaker and the latter more of a goal-scorer – but there are some similarities in how each grew up.
“I think it was pretty embarrassing for my parents when people walked by and saw all the holes in our garage,” Wright said jokingly.
“So embarrassed,” Tanya acknowledged with a laugh. “I know we brought the value of the whole neighborhood down.”
Simon added about the door: “I’m surprised it actually still went up and down.”
All those reps on the driveway helped Wright develop a lethal shot on the ice – one that impressed Caputi immediately.
“I think his first goal in the league, I believe his third or fourth game, was an eye-popping goal,” Caputi recalled. “He just caught it on his off wing on the dot in the offensive zone and he went back bar. I think it hit every bar in the net and you said, ‘Oh! There it is.'”
Even though his release was already a strength, Caputi said Wright missed the net a lot early in the season. And so the teenager put in the necessary work to hone his accuracy.
“We do it every day after practice,” Caputi said. “From his one spot on the power play, he might’ve had 5,000 (shots) this year. That’s how committed he is to his craft.”
The work eventually paid off. After starting with six goals in his first 17 games, Wright ended the season scoring 33 times in his final 41 contests. Despite his individual success, though, Kingston finished the season with only 19 wins in 62 games – the third-lowest total in the 20-team league.
“We didn’t win a heck of a lot of games this year, so when you face adversity you see people’s true character and he really cares,” Caputi said. “I’d say the winning aspect, even some of the games when he thought he could play better, that’s when you see that he really cares. Extra reps the next day, staying late to watch video. That’s somebody you want to build your identity and your core around.”
At the end of the day, it’s simple: Wright’s commitment to winning stems from his hatred of losing, which he’s known he’s detested since he began walking. It’s cost him at times – when he “literally exploded with anger” during a centipede skirace his family was losing at a summer cottage, according to Tanya, and when he was slide tackling as a six-year-old during soccer games. But Wright’s matured and learned to harness his competitiveness; in fact, it’s become his biggest strength.
“He hates losing,” Simon reiterated. “He competes to win every single time.”
Wright, it seems, has that fire inside him, that sets the elite of the elite apart, that is required to be the best, and to be “the next one.”
Luisa Wilson said people sometimes do double takes when she tells them about her hockey roots.
“Sometimes when I’m in Canada, I’ll be practicing and they’re like, ‘You’re good, where are you from?’ I’m like, ‘I’m Mexican,'” she said. “And they’re like, ‘Mexico has hockey?’ I’m like, ‘We have hockey and ice rinks, the entire thing,’ and they can’t believe it.”
Luisa, a 15-year-old who was born in central Mexico, is turning more people into believers.
She made history when became the first Mexico-born athlete to win a Winter Olympics medal when she won the gold competing on a multinational three-on-three hockey team at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, in January.
“It’s really cool being able to expand the sport that I really love in Mexico,” Luisa said. “It’s amazing what this sport can do to change your life, and I want more kids to be able to experience that.”
Luisa knew she had done something special when the gold medal was draped around her neck at the award ceremony on the ice, “but I didn’t know how big it was until I got to Mexico and there were reporters there,” she said.
She added a bronze medal to her collection weeks later playing for Mexico at the 2020 International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championship Division II Group B in Mexico City.
“It was an awesome experience being able to play with the Mexican team, representing Mexico in Mexico with Mexicans cheering me on because when Mexico cheers, Mexico cheers,” said Luisa, who scored two goals in the tournament. “They bring drums and everything.”
Mexico Under-18 at the Women’s World Championship Division II Group B in Mexico City
Luisa’s exploits have earned her recognition throughout Mexico and beyond. She landed on Forbes Mexico’s list of the 100 powerful women of Mexico in 2020, a who’s who that includes actress and producer Salma Hayek, Hyundai Mexico CEO Claudia Marquez, Kellogg Latin America president Maria Fernanda Mejia, and Graciela Marquez, Mexico’s secretary of the economy.
The hockey gloves Luisa wore during the Youth Winter Olympics are at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, said her mother, Laura San Roman Onate.
That’s pretty lofty stuff for a teenager who began skating as a 3-year-old with her father, Brian, a Canadian who was coaching hockey and playing rugby in Mexico.
Most people don’t associate hockey with Mexico, but the country has been an IIHF member since 1985 and has more than 3,000 registered players, most of them youth. Mexico has 22 indoor rinks, according to the IIHF.
The family moved around in Mexico for coaching jobs for Brian Wilson and more ice time as Luisa and her two brothers, Jack and Thomas, progressed as players.
Luisa Wilson, the first Mexico-born athlete to win a Winter Olympics medal
In 2017, the family relocated to suburban Toronto so the children could get more hockey experience and games. Luisa said she plays 50 to 60 games a season now as opposed to in Mexico, where she played about 40 games a season.
“My version of the story is we were in the kitchen and my dad and my brother were, like, we should move to Canada,” Luisa said. “And I was, like, ‘Yeah, let’s do it.’ And my mom was, like, ‘We can’t just move to Canada.’ And we did.”
San Roman Onate recalled that by the time she heard about the Canada idea, it was a done deal.
Wilson’s paternal grandparents were so excited, they had already decided “‘We’ll sell our house in Parry Sound, we’ll move to Toronto so the kids can come to Toronto and go to school and play hockey in the afternoon,'” San Roman Onate said. “Everybody moved for hockey.”
Luisa said the move has paid off in making her a better player. She said she cringes when she watches old videos of her playing.
“I had no hockey sense back then,” she said. “I really liked playing defense because I got to stay in front of the net and just pound kids down onto the ice. That was my go-to move, basically. I knew how to skate because we used to practice 16-17 hours a week on the ice. But we were terrible hockey players because we only got a tournament like once a year.”
Luisa’s increased ice time in Canada and her performance at the Youth Winter Olympics and IIHF world championship have set her focus on playing college hockey and representing Mexico at the Winter Olympics someday.
The Mexico Ice Hockey Federation wants its national women’s national team, ranked 26th in the world by the IIHF, to compete in the Winter Games in the near future.
“Every day of the week, I’m working out so when the time comes, if I can be on that team, I could actually help them,” Luisa said of the women’s national team. “If I can be on that team, I want to help them, not be a bench-warmer.”
Montoya believes if young Hispanic players get to try hockey, they’ll fall in love just as he did.
Al Montoya, the first Cuban American to play in the NHL, says he was also the first native Spanish speaker in the 100-year history of the league.
Montoya finds both facts amazing, but also believes members of the Hispanic community would fall in love with the game as he did while growing up in Chicago. That is as long as they’re given the opportunity to try the sport.
“I realized the weight of what being the first Cuban American was the day I got drafted,” Montoya said. “You’re not representing yourself anymore. You’re representing the community. And I embraced it.”
He spent 15 years in professional hockey as a goaltender, but it’s also his family history that results in Montoya speaking with such pride.
Montoya’s mother was born and raised in Cuba. His grandparents fled Cuba and from the Castro regime in 1963 for the United States. They went from being landowners in Cuba to Montoya’s grandfather “selling strawberries on the side of the road and working at McDonald’s,” Montoya shared.
It’s the work ethic from his grandparents, and his mother working as a doctor, that has rubbed off on Montoya, now 35 years old. He recalls his grandfather telling him how grateful he was for the United States, the place that gave him his freedom.
“One of the prouder moments of my life is standing on that blue line or that red line, looking up at our flag and knowing the sacrifices that they made to give me that opportunity of freedom,” Montoya said. “They passed it down to me. I can’t say enough about it.”
Raised by his single mother and his grandparents along with three brothers, Montoya followed his older brother in playing hockey. Montoya started out as a skater, taking up hockey at 3 years old. He began hockey as a forward, but the next year, his team didn’t have a goalie. He remembers playing in a house league before that, where the goaltender bag cycled between teammates, allowing everyone a shot to try the position.
That second year of mites, “I took that bag, and I never gave it back,” Montoya said.
He called that 2004 team, which included Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, “one of the best teams ever produced by USA Hockey.”
“This is our chance to make this statement and be the first team to ever win, the first U.S. team to win a gold medal,” Montoya said. “Once that American flag is going up, and you know you won it, and you’re surrounded by your brothers, your family, your teammates. It’s really a moment I’ll never forget.”
He played for the University of Michigan when he was 17 years old and went 86-29-8 there across three seasons. The New York Rangers drafted him sixth overall in 2004. That’s when he realized the platform he had as the first Cuban American NHL player. He also played in Puerto Rico, gave interviews in Spanish (his first language growing up) and even had a sandwich named after him at the Carnegie Deli.
He made his NHL debut April 1, 2009 with the Phoenix Coyotes, coached at the time by Wayne Gretzky. Montoya earned a 23-save shutout in a 3-0 victory over Colorado at the Pepsi Center. He couldn’t have scripted it any better.
“Getting that chance to live that ultimate dream that first game is a moment that will always be close to my heart,” Montoya said.
KOSICE, SLOVAKIA – MAY 2: Martin Roymark #22 of Team Norway tries to jump on a rebound as Al Montoya #35 of Team USA makes a save during preliminary round action at the 2011 IIHF World Championship.
He ended up playing 168 games in the NHL (67-49-24 with a 2.65 GAA and .908 save percentage) across nine seasons with Phoenix, the New York Islanders, Winnipeg, Florida, Montreal and Edmonton through the 2017-18 season.
His grandparents died in 2008 and didn’t get a chance to see him play in the NHL, but they watched him at the University of Michigan and saw him get drafted.
“They got to watch me play which was, now that I think about it, it makes my heart whole,” Montoya said.
A year into retirement from hockey, Montoya spent time with his family and took “a spiritual, emotional trip” to Cuba last summer. He was the first in his family to return since 1963. Montoya has appreciated this time in retirement.
It’s given me the time to be intentional about the next phase of my life, and that’s dedicating my second career to my passions, which are hockey and the Hispanic community,” Montoya said.
His goal is to grow hockey by incorporating Latinos into the conversation around the sport. Recently, he was a panelist for USA Hockey’s Let’s Grow Forward webinar. This focused on different ways the Hispanic community is already joining the larger hockey family and, even more importantly, discussed ways to get them further involved. During the webinar, Montoya and fellow panelist, Robert Torres, talked about their work together. Montoya has partnered with Torres’ organization Parents for Peace and Justice, a Hispanic community in Montoya’s Chicago hometown. Montoya is also part of the NHL’s Player Inclusion Committee.
Montoya sees a grassroots effort taking shape, bringing hockey to Hispanic communities that maybe cannot afford to play hockey or don’t immediately gravitate toward the sport. Hockey isn’t the first sport Hispanics reach out to, Montoya added. In Cuba, there was no ice; kids play baseball or box, he said.
Still, he believes with the celebratory nature of Hispanic culture and how everyone loves to come together that there’s no reason that Hispanics shouldn’t be passionate about hockey as well, he said.
“I know they love speed, I know they love action,” Montoya said. “And by doing that and by starting at the grassroots level, you’ll check all the boxes at the end of the day with fan inclusion and marketing players. The game will continue to grow.”
He’s making it a goal to get out and interact with youth, so he can get them involved in hockey at more of a grassroots level. Or maybe his role will also be working at the NHL level to help put fans in the seats. He’d love for the “fantastic” game of hockey and the “fantastic” Hispanic community to be blended together.
Montoya’s outreach is local with the Hispanic community, but he’s also had conversations with NHL general managers and presidents. It’s all about finding a home for his vision and getting to work right away.
“It started out as an idea, and I’ve had a year to grow this thing and grow this thing,” Montoya said. “I’m looking forward to finally putting it all together.”
A successful three season run at the helm of the Soo Thunderbirds of the Northern Ontario Jr. Hockey League has turned into a new challenge for high-end coach John Parco.
The soon-to-be-49-year-old Sault Ste. Marie product has signed a two-year contract with the Italian Ice Hockey Federation.
In his new role, Parco will be the director of hockey development for the Italian Federation. Parco told Sault This Week that as director of hockey development for the IIHF, he will oversee all levels of the game from the under 20 national program down to four- and five-year-old kids. He noted that part of his job relates to a pre-Olympic hockey project program. “The 2026 Winter Olympics will be held in Milan, Italy and we want to make sure that we can put together a team that is at least competitive,” he explained. “Overall, it is a big job with a lot of responsibility but I am up for the challenge,” relayed Parco, who is no stranger to Italy, having met his wife there and having played and coached overseas for more than two decades.
Parco, his wife, and their two kids have long maintained a residence in Italy, even while he was in the Sault and coaching the Thunderbirds. On that note, as he prepares to head to Italy at the end of this month, Parco told Sault This Week he will retain a residence in Sault Ste. Marie, adding that he plans to return on occasion to remain involved in the Superior Sports Training gym that he owns.
Before going on to a decorated professional career as a player and coach overseas — mostly in Italy — Parco was a three-year scoring star as a center with the erstwhile Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League, playing for coaches Larry Mavety and Danny Flynn.
Drafted by Belleville out of the Sault Major Hockey Association in the third round of the 1988 OHL priority selections draft, Parco produced 109 goals, 148 assists, 257 points over three regular season campaigns with the Bulls.
A National Hockey League draft pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, Parco went on to a 19-year pro career, spending the majority of it as an A Division standout with HC Asiago in Italy.
As he was a team captain in the OHL with Belleville, he also wore the “C” on his jersey with HC Asiago. Parco also starred for Team Italy at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin.
After retiring as a player, Parco was the coach for HC Asiago for three seasons and led them to two championships. And having spent the past three seasons in his hometown as coach of the Thunderbirds, Parco led the local NOJHL team to three-year regular season record of 110-46-12.
He led the Thunderbirds to the NOJHL championship series in 2018-2019 before losing to the Hearst Lumberjacks in the seventh and deciding game of what was a thrilling, outstanding set.
Parco resigned his position with the Thunderbirds after the recent 2019-2020 season and has since been replaced by Denny Lambert as head coach.
Lambert, a former journeyman winger of many years in the NHL, also played for, and later coached, the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL.
Players for hockey’s Team Canada gather at Maple Leaf Gardens in August 1972 ahead of a tournament against their Soviet opponents.
Hockey’s 1972 Summit Series was going to pit Canada against the Soviet Union. And after a summer off, it was time for the Canadian team to start training.
“Team Canada opened its training camp here at the Gardens today with a full squad,” said CBC reporter Terry McInnes on Aug. 14, 1972.
Some 16,000 spectators were expected at Maple Leaf Gardens when Toronto hosted a match in the eight-game contest. The Canada-Soviet competition, he said, had been billed as “the most exciting hockey series of all time.”
Thirty-five of the best players from the National Hockey League would be taking part. “To a man they have one thought in mind,” said McInnes. “To prove that the world’s best hockey team is Canadian.”
Player Tony Esposito hones a hockey stick ahead of the team’s departure for Moscow. “I don’t even know if they’ve got a rasp over there,” he said
Reporters had been invited to the Gardens that morning as training camp got underway, as the players engaged in “light skating, posing for photographers, and interviews.”
They were captured in pairs wearing white long underwear and doing sit-ups, with player Stan Mikita sitting on a fellow athlete’s legs.
Phil Esposito, at the time a player with the Boston Bruins, was customizing one of several hockey sticks he was planning to use for the set of games to be played in the Soviet Union.
As he honed the blade with woodworking tools, he discussed how the Canadian approach to conditioning was different from that taken in other countries.
‘Different training programs’
The players paired off to demonstrate their sit-up techniques for the assembled media
“They have different training programs,” Esposito said, mentioning a Swedish fellow player, Mats Lindh, whose regimen included swimming “15 miles a day.”
Canadians, by contrast, spent their summers drinking beer, swimming, and boating.
McInnes asked about a story he’d heard that Soviet players were up at 6 a.m. to run around their hotel, while the Canadians were “just coming in at that time.”
“That’s their fault for getting up that early,” Esposito said, with a laugh. “I don’t like it, myself.”
Giving ‘100 per cent’
Player Phil Esposito acknowledged that hockey training in Europe and the Soviet Union differed from Canadian methods
Players Vic Hadfield and Ron Ellis, interviewed in practice jerseys on the ice, knew what was at stake.
“Not only are we playing for ourselves, but for Canada and the National Hockey League,” said Hadfield. “We’re going to give it 100 per cent.”
McInnes asked about the absence of some of the game’s best players — Bobby Hull, Derek Sanderson, and Gerry Cheevers — who,as part of the World Hockey Association, were excluded from the Summit Series.
“Certainly we’d like to have them … but that’s up to the fellows that are running this,” said Hadfield.
According to the Globe and Mail, Hockey Canada had voted in July to limit the Canadian team to players from the NHL due to the “rapidly proliferating war” between the two leagues.
“Two weeks may not be enough time to get in real top shape,” said player Ron Ellis, who was a right winger for the Toronto Maple Leafs
The waits for were long for both Kevin Lowe and Doug Wilson. But after receiving Wednesday phone calls from Lanny MacDonald, the two longtime NHL defensemen are Hall of Famers.
Lowe, eligible since 2001, and Wilson, eligible since 1996, were announced as part of the 2020 class along with Jarome Iginla, Marian Hossa, Kim St. Pierre, and Ken Holland.
“It’s not only that you have to get 14 of 18 votes, but it’s also sometimes who you may be up against when you’re up that year,” said MacDonald, the Hall’s Chairman. “Sometimes, it’s timing. Regardless of if they go in like Marian and Jarome, it’s richly deserved.”
When Lowe saw MacDonald was calling, he figured it wasn’t say he didn’t get in.
“It’s all surreal for me,” he said.
Lowe is the seventh player from those great 1980s Oilers teams to make it to the Hall of Fame. After watching Wayne Gretzky, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri, Glenn Anderson, Mark Messier, and Paul Coffey get inducted, he never thought he would join that group.
“I’ve never seen myself as a Hall of Famer,” Lowe said. “For me, the Hall of Fame was Bobby Orr, Jean Beliveau, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier. Although I know there are players of my ilk in the Hall of Fame and it’s a place for everyone, I don’t want to say I was disappointed in the years I didn’t get selected, but I certainly understood you have to put up more points, win awards.
“My dream was always to win Stanley Cups and the Hall of Fame was something I never dreamed about.”
Lowe finished his NHL career with six Stanley Cup rings between the Oilers and Rangers. In 1,254 games he scored 84 times and recorded 431 points. Internationally, he represented Canada at the 1982 World Championship and the 1984 Canada Cup.
Wilson had the longer wait and since retiring has made an impact as Sharks general manager for nearly two decades. He’s going into the Hall of Fame in the player category, a day he didn’t think was coming.
“It was an unexpected call,” he said.
Wilson played 16 NHL seasons, finishing with 237 goals and 827 points. He’s the Blackhawks all-time leader in goals and points by a defenseman and led the their blue liners in scoring for 10 seasons. His 0.81 points-per-game average is ninth all-time among defenseman who played at least 650 games.
Individually, Wilson was voted a 1981-82 First Team All-Star and won the Norris Trophy in 1982. He was also a finalist for the award four other times. Like Lowe, he was on Canada’s blue line for the 1984 Canada Cup.
“This game has been so good to me, and all the things I’ve been fortunate to do and the journey I’ve been on, it was very unexpected,” he said.
“It’s worth the wait. That’s an understatement.”
The 2020 Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony is tentatively set to take place Monday, Nov. 16 in Toronto.
Growing up in Canada I was a huge hockey fan, but it wasn't until the 1972 summit series and the 1976 Canada Cup that I became a big fan of international hockey. The best players in world all playing on a sheet of ice.
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