Category: North America (page 1 of 8)

Canadian hockey teams open Olympic gold medal defences versus Switzerland, Russia

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The International Ice Hockey Federation released the ice hockey schedules and matchups Monday for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea — the first Winter Games that will not feature NHL players since 1994.

Canada opens defence of its Olympic men’s hockey gold Feb. 15 versus Switzerland and women’s gold Feb. 11 against Russia.

The International Ice Hockey Federation released the ice hockey schedules and matchups Monday for the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Canada’s women, who are currently training full-time in Calgary, will try to extend the country’s run of gold to five in a row.

Canada will ice a team of non-NHL players in the men’s tournament for the first time since 1994. The league chose to skip next year’s Games.

The Canadian men take on the Czech Republic on Feb. 17 and conclude the preliminary round in Pool A the following day against host South Korea.

Quarter-final games are Feb. 21 followed by the semifinals Feb. 23. The bronze-medal game is Feb. 24 and the gold-medal game Feb. 25 prior to the closing ceremonies.

Russia, the United States, Slovakia and Slovenia are in Pool B. Sweden, Finland, Norway and Germany make up Pool C.

Canada’s women face Finland on Feb. 13 and the archrival Americans on Feb. 15 in Pool A games.

The quarter-final matches are Feb. 17 followed by the semifinals Feb. 19. The bronze-medal game is Feb. 21 and the championship game is Feb. 22.

Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and host South Korea round out the women’s field.

Games will be played at the Gangneung Hockey Centre, which has a capacity of 10,000 spectators, and the 6,000-seat Kwangdong Hockey Centre.

Lebanon gets its own national hockey team — and it’s in Montreal

Claude Kfoury

Claude Kfoury, 39, proudly shows off the Lebanese cedar on his T-shirt,
his native country’s national symbol. Kfoury learned to
play hockey as
a teenager, when his family came to Canada. (CBC)

Elias Abboud – CBC News

Team is brainchild of Lebanese Montrealers who love the game, but players fly in from as far away as France

“Twenty bucks, guys,” says a player who’s just suited up in his hockey gear, as he makes his way around the locker room collecting his teammates’ contribution to pay for the ice time at  Montreal’s Collège Brébeuf arena.

It’s after 10 p.m.

Most of the guys are here after work, and they have to get up early the next morning to return to their jobs.

It’s a scene repeated at beer-league hockey games in arena locker rooms across the country.

These players, however, aren’t your average beer leaguers. They’re members of Lebanon’s first national ice hockey team.

Joe Bouhaidar, Frédéric Nassif

Joe Bouhaidar, left, and Frédéric Nassif, centre, suit up for practice at the Collège
Brébeuf arena. (CBC)

Canadian hockey players speak of the immense pride they feel when they pull on the maple leaf jersey to represent their country. The Lebanese players say they feel the same way about the cedar tree — the national symbol of Lebanon.

“I feel like someone gave me a mission, and this mission is to represent my country,” said winger Joe Bouhaidar.

Joe Bouhaidar

Joe Bouhaidar, 29, played Midget AAA hockey in Quebec City. He said he always wanted to
play for a national team. He just didn’t know it would be Lebanon’s. (CBC)

Bouhaidar, 29, was born in Quebec City and grew up playing hockey, reaching Midget AAA.

“Since I’m young, I always wanted to play for a national team,” he said. “Obviously, it’s a great honour to play for a team like Canada or U.S.A.

“When I heard [Lebanon] has a national team, I said I have to try myself there and give it all I got. I made the team, and I was pretty happy.”

‘I was just hooked’

Claude Kfoury, 39, didn’t lace up skates until his teen years. His family came to Canada in 1991 to escape the violence in their war-torn home country.

The defenceman remembers, soon after he arrived, watching the 1991 Stanley Cup finals between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Minnesota North Stars.

“I was just hooked.”

Kfoury wanted to play right away. One problem: his family arrived in May.

“No more ice, no more snow,” said Kfoury. “The next winter, I was playing in the parks around Ville Saint-Laurent. I was on the ice for 10 hours a day. I didn’t want to leave, I didn’t want to eat. Since then, I hit it off and I haven’t stopped skating.”

Why not Lebanon?

The team was the brainchild of Ralph Melki and a group of friends — Lebanese Montrealers who loved the game.

Melki, now the team’s coach, said they realized other Middle Eastern and Arab teams have national teams. So why not Lebanon?

“We started something here in Canada, because there’s a lot of Lebanese in Quebec. There’s a lot of Lebanese that play the game, and this is how it all started,” said Melki.

Coach Ralph Melki

Ralph Melki, the Lebanon team’s coach, said the team’s goal is to be accepted into the
International Ice Hockey Federation. (CBC)

The group created a Facebook page, and word spread. At the first tryout last spring, 75 players came out.

There’s no formal structure. The team doesn’t even play in a league at the moment, instead arranging exhibition games against other national teams such as Egypt, Morocco, Haiti, Algeria.

Melki says Lebanon’s team has players coming in from Toronto, Ottawa, Michigan and France. Four players even flew in from Calgary for the team’s first game in April.

That game was a 7-4 win over Team Haiti — a group of Montrealers who grew up playing hockey much the way the Lebanese players did.

Since that first win against Haiti, the Lebanese national team has gone on to beat Egypt and Morocco. Tonight they play Algeria — a team made up of players of Algerian descent now living in France.

Melki says the team is aiming for a bigger stage — being accepted into the International Ice Hockey Federation. To accomplish that, the team needs the backing of the Lebanese government and proof that the country has at least one ice hockey rink and a league with teams.

No politics, no religion on the ice

Skating on the national team has done more than bring hockey players together from far and wide.

It has also bridged a stark cultural and political gap: the two prominent religions back home, Islam and Christianity, have long been a source for conflict.

Goalie Frédéric Nassif

Off the ice, Frédéric Nassif is a Montreal documentary producer. He plays goal for the
Lebanese national team. (CBC)

Once the players pull on their jerseys with the cedar tree on the front, political and religious differences are set aside.

“No one talks about it,” said Bouhaidar. “We look like a united team, and that’s what we like about it. I have fun with those guys. Now I’m chilling with those guys outside of the ice, and before I didn’t know them.”

“We’re all Lebanese, we all care about the cedar,” said Coach Melki. “So once they put that jersey on: ‘Be proud to represent your country.'”

Tonight’s matchup between Lebanon and Algeria takes place at Place Bell, 1950 Claude-Gagné Street in Laval.

Game time is 9:15 p.m. ET.

Costa Rica to host first international ice hockey tournament

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By National Teams of Ice Hockey

Costa Rica will play in it’s first international ice hockey tournament.
The venue will be the Castillo Country Club in San Rafael de Heredia, on 18th and 19th of November.
It will consist of 4 teams, three of them from Canada, Los Angeles and the Falkland Islands.

The event will be in the Senior category, ie teams will come with experienced players and in many cases with ex professionals on their rosters, which will give a the event a more professional feel to it, and will be the first ice hockey tournament in Central America.

“We are celebrating 20 years of ice hockey in Costa Rica, I am the founder and one of the coaches of the program.
I started the program in 1996 in the Castillo Country Club, we also played in other places with a synthetic ice, but at Castillo Country Club we are already celebrating two decades. In 2014, the ice surface doubled and our program is enjoying steady growth “said Bruce Callow, one of the organizers.


“We have about 40 people in the hockey program, from ages 6 to 40 and 50 years old men and women.

We have many activities every year, exchanges with other programs and from time to time we invite children from rehabilitation centers and orphan hospices to play with us. “

Callow said that the tournament is a symbol of the growth of ice hockey in the country. He also said that countries such as Puerto Rico, Mexico and Argentina have asked if they could participate in this tournament when they realized it they signed up for next year’s edition.

“Hopefully it will continue as an annual event, but we have to concentrate on the this tournament and we have much hope that it will be a success and a historical sporting event in Costa Rica.”

He maintained that thanks to the help of the NHLPA and other organizations and individuals they were able to get donations of equipment to develop the the sport in the country, which is not traditional in Costa Rica, where there is no snow.

“We have appreciated the support of different organizations to help us get protective equipment, in particular the NHLPA’s Goals and Dreams program, which has supported us for 15 years, “said Bruce Callow

  Castillo Knights Hockey Club.

NWHL/Team Russia Summit Series set for October

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By NWHL.zone Staff

Russian Women’s National Team to Play Two Games Each Against the Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters

In a collaboration between the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL) and Russian Ice Hockey Federation, the Russian National Team (RNT) will come to the United States this October for two weeks of training and competition.

The “NWHL/Team Russia Summit Series” will feature the RNT playing two preseason games each against the Boston Pride, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters. Team Russia will also participate in training sessions during the trip.

“Our players and staff are very excited to come to the USA again to play hard and wonderful hockey against the high-level players of the NWHL,” said Olga Votolovskaya, general manager of the Russian Women’s National Team. “I want to say special thanks to NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan for supporting our initiative, and to the Russian Ice Hockey Federation for financing such a long and far away trip. For a team to improve, you have to go up against some of the best – and that’s what the NWHL represents.”

The two-week visit from Oct. 11-23 will serve as training for Team Russia as it prepares for the 2018 Winter Olympics, and as preparation for the three NWHL clubs before the league’s regular season begins in late October. The RNT faced NWHL clubs in five preseason games in 2016.

“We welcome the Russian National Team and thank them for an ongoing partnership that is beneficial for everyone involved,” said Rylan. “These games may be between friendly rivals, but they are intense – perfect preparation for our teams before the start of the NWHL season.”

Dates, times and venues for the games will be announced this summer.

Additional comments from Olga Votolovskaya:

  • “We enjoy the warm hospitality and kind attention from American people that meet us at the hotels, in the hockey arenas and on the streets during our trip. We will definitely bring some ‘Red Machine’ hockey souvenirs for our American friends. I am looking forward to seeing their smiling faces again.”
  • “Last time we managed to win two games out of five (4-1 vs. Riveters and 3- 2 over Whale). The games were very interesting and tough and it was noticeable that my girls were improving from game to game. We have no other North American trips planned at this time. We will concentrate all our efforts on this series vs. the NWHL. Our plan for October is to bring some young and talented players to the battles with a hope of winning three games out of six.”

The 2017-18 NWHL regular season is set to begin in October, featuring founding four franchises Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters playing a full slate of home games as well as neutral site games.

NHL team takes it to the ‘ice’ in Barbados

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By The Barbados Advocate

The Florida Panthers Ice Hockey team was right at home in Barbados when they paid a visit to Icetopia Skating Rink this past Wednesday evening.

Continuing their community outreach while on the island, the United States National Hockey League (NHL) teams carried a clinic for young players as there was a new interest in the sport.

With several youngsters coming out to the region’s first ice skating rink to take part in the workshop, they were taken through the paces by defencemen Ian McCoshen and Alex Petrovic as well as newly-retired player Shawn Thornton, who now wears the hat of Vice President of Business Operations for the team.

Speaking to The Barbados Advocate, Vice President of Alumni and and Broadcasting Randy Moller explained that the initiative came out of their desire to give something back, in the hopes that it would aid the development of the sport in Barbados.

“As part of our partnership with the island of Barbados and our outreach programmes and our community development for youth hockey for the Florida Panthers, we jumped on this opportunity to come down here to this beautiful Caribbean island of Barbados when we found out that they have an indoor synthetic ice arena that kids actually play hockey on. We were excited about coming down and putting on a clinic for these kids and hopefully give them some more pointers to improve their skills in the world’s fastest team game,” Moller said.

Noting that they brought some of their best and brightest, Moller stated that they were enjoying their time on the island.

“We brought Panthers defencemen Alex Petrovic, Ian McCoshen and former Florida Panther Shawn Thornton to strap on the blades and come down and see what this is all about. We have been very impressed. This is incredible and to have this on an island in the Southern Caribbean is amazing. Barbados is incredible and we are really happy to be here,” he said.

Team USA Tops Canada, 7-5, in WJSS Finale

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By USAHockey.com

Joey Anderson (Roseville, Minn.) netted a hat trick and Adam Fox (Jericho, N.Y.) registered five points as the U.S topped Canada, 7-5, in the final game of the 2017 World Junior Summer Showcase. 

Anderson opened the scoring for the U.S. just 5:33 into the contest. The play started when Fox collected the puck at the blue line and sent a cross-ice pass to Patrick Harper (Jericho, N.Y.) who curled towards the slot and fired a pass that Anderson redirected past Canada’s goaltender Carter Hart.

Jordan Kyrou evened the score at the 12:43 mark by firing a slap shot from the top of the left circle past Joseph Woll (St. Louis, Mo.). 

Less than four minutes later, Givani Smith gave Canada a 2-1 advantage when his shot from the blue line deflected off a skate and floated over Woll into the top right corner.

The U.S. were able to respond just 43 seconds later, though, when Fox took a pass from Casey Mittelstadt (Eden Prairie, Minn.) and tucked a wrist shot over Hart’s right shoulder to knot the score, 2-2.

Anderson regained the U.S. lead 1:23 into the middle stanza with his second power-play goal of the game by batting home a rebound off an initial shot from Ryan Poehling (Lakeville, Minn.).

At 9:14, Kailer Yamamoto (Spokane, Wash.) made it 4-2 by taking a pass from Fox and skating around a Canadian defender before tucking a backhanded effort low blocker side.

Pierre-Luc Dubois cut the U.S. lead to one just 3:31 later by finding a loose puck near the crease and lifting it over Woll’s left pad.

Harper regained a two-goal U.S. lead just 48 seconds into the final frame when he took a pass from Fox, split two Canadian defenders and fired a wrist shot high glove side past Canada’s goaltender Dylan Wells.

Poehling finished a feed from Harper on the power-play 6:42 into the final period before Sam Steel one-timed a shot past Woll just over five minutes later to make it 6-4.

Jonah Gadjovich tallied for Canada less than two minutes later to bring the score to 6-5. 

Anderson completed the hat trick with an empty-net goal in the final minute to account for the 7-5 final. 

Woll stopped 16 shots to earn the victory for the U.S.

USA Hockey to emphasize skill in building Olympic roster

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SA Hockey won’t use its failed past blueprints to construct a 2018 Winter Olympics roster.

Team USA, which named Jim Johannson as general manager and the University of Wisconsin’s Tony Granato as coach of its Olympic entry Friday, will have a different look when it arrives in Pyeongchang.

“We want a skilled team,” Johannson told Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News. “The game is all about skating today. We’re gonna get up and down the ice.”

Given USA Hockey’s lagging international results – including a disastrous run at last year’s World Cup, in which a hard-nosed club constructed by former Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi finished an embarrassing seventh – a change in philosophy seemed to be in order.

Johannson is a longtime member of USA Hockey who currently serves as assistant executive director of hockey operations, one of many titles he has held since 2000. The Minnesota native was the GM behind Team USA’s three gold-medal finishes at the world juniors in 2010, 2013, and 2017.

American hockey fans hope Johannson can now bring that winning track record to the Olympic stage.

Looking at Canada’s Goalie Options for Korean Olympics

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By Steven Ellis – Eurohockey.com

For the first time in recent Olympic history, Canada’s goaltending options are no longer a no-brainer. What will the two-time defending Olympic champion bring to the table this time around?

Canada hasn’t had to think very hard about their goalie options in previous international tournaments.

At the 2014 Olympics and 2016 World Cup of Hockey, the undisputed number one goalie was Carey Price. Roberto Luongo and Braden Holtby were both fully capable of being number one goalies in their respective years, but for the most part, Price was on top of the world.

But for the first time since the 1994 Olympics, the tournament that is typically known for having the best athletes in the world will be without the best hockey players due to the complaints from the NHL playing over in PyeongChang, South Korea.

So for the first time in a long time, there is no longer a clear picture on who the goaltending for Team Canada will be. They have the AHL, CHL, KHL, NLA, SHL, DEL, etc. to choose from, but considering teams like Russia and Sweden will still be strong offensively, goaltender means more than ever at the Olympics.

Canada will be taking part in at least four international tournaments in 2017 leading up to the tournament, starting with the Sochi Hockey Open and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in August. Canada is bringing two slightly-altered rosters for the tournaments, with the expectation that the final team will be made up players currently on the two teams.

Naturally, due to his previous experience with the team and coming off of a decent season with Dynamo Minsk in the KHL, Ben Scrivens seems to be the number one choice. Scrivens has had a few tough seasons in the NHL after stealing the show with the Los Angeles Kings back in 2013-2014 when Jonathan Quick was injured. He has played with five different teams since that wonderful stretch of action, with the Spruce Grove, Alberta native signed to play with Salavat Yulaev Ufa for the upcoming campaign.

Internationally, Scrivens is the only goalie of the three to have previous experience. In 2014, Scrivens out-played former Toronto Maple Leafs goalie partner James Reimer and earned Canada’s starting role heading into the quarter-finals. The playoff round, however, saw Canada exiting early in a match against Finland, but Scrivens proved he could be a decent goalie at the tournament.

Scrivens only saw one more season as a full-time NHLer with Edmonton before eventually spending the 2015-2016 season split between two AHL squads and the Montreal Canadiens, who might as well have been an AHL team that year.

Scrivens went on to represent Canada at the 2016 Wayne Gretzky Ice Hockey Classic in Australia in 2016, an event that features some NHLers mixed in with minor-pro players in an exhibition tournament spread out throughout Australia.

Then there is Kevin Poulin, the only goalie to represent Canada at both exhibition tournaments the team is taking place in Europe in August. Poulin hasn’t played in the NHL since December 27th, 2014 in a shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres, finding himself in the AHL for two seasons before seeing his options dry out after a stint with  Calgary’s AHL team, Stockton.

In an effort to get his career back on track, Poulin, 27, played a game with the now-defunct Laval Predateurs of the LNAH, a league known more for its thuggish nature than their skilled assassins. He finally was able to sign with the KHL’s Barys Astana in October, where he backed up former Calgary Flames netminder Henrik Karlsson.

But with the 2017-2018 season heating up in just a few weeks, Poulin finds himself without a job, which could be why he was named to two different Canadian squads. Will the international hockey virgin spend the time fully focusing on the Olympics? Who knows, but he’ll need to really steal the show after a few weak professional seasons in recent years.

Former Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals and Arizona Coyotes backup Justin Peters will not likely get the call to start any games in South Korea, but could easily act as the third goalie after getting called upon for the Sochi Open tournament beginning on August 5th. Canada’s third goalie at the 2014 World Championships, Peters is also looking for his first game of action, which he will surely get in Sochi.

Peters found himself moving around quite a bit last season, playing with Arizona in the NHL and Tucson and Texas in the AHL. The two-time AHL All-Star has shown the ability to be good in short bursts, but has never really been counted on as a viable option as a starting goalie for an extended period of time.

Still, the Blyth, Ontario native is hoping to turn his career around after signing with Dinamo Minsk, who will face Canada at the 2017 Spengler Cup in Davos, Switzerland in December. Peters should create a strong goaltending duo with Jānis Kalniņš, a Latvian native who represented the team in 30 games a year ago. But with an Olympic opportunity at large, this is the most important season of his career to date.

Those three goalies are all pegged to represent Canada in the summer, but what other options are there out there? What about Zachary Fucale? Some Montreal Canadiens may call him a bust at 23-years-old, having being regulated to the ECHL last season, but Team Canada seems to have like him the past few years. Fucale pulled off a rare feat where he represented Canada at two separate World Junior tournaments, winning gold on home ice back in 2015.

Then, at the 2016 Spengler Cup, Fucale proved to be one of the best goalies at the tournament, enroute to Canada’s second straight championship. It was the fifth time Fucale has represented Canada in international competition, capping off a season that saw Fucale act as arguably the best goalie in Brampton Beast history.

Likely to backup Charlie Lindgren with the AHL’s Laval Rocket, Fucale has to be considered, but could be in a tough spot because the other options all come from the KHL, who, of course, will feature many players in the tournament among the many teams.

Then there’s Danny Taylor, who is fresh off of a good season in the KHL with Sibir Novosibirsk and Medvescak Zagreb. Unlike Fucale, Taylor has experience playing against the best players from the KHL, and with a likely shot at being an AHL starter with the Binghamton Senators, he’ll be given chances to show his worth.

At the 2016 Deutschland Cup with Canada, his first tournament with Canada, Taylor had significantly better stats than Jaroslav Janus and Tobias Stephan, the only other goalies to play in two games in the tournament, allowing just one goal on 49 shots against. Taylor could very likely find himself playing in the NHL at some point as a fill-in for Ottawa, however, which would negate his chances of representing the team.

Another possible name, despite being a long shot? Eric Comrie. Canada’s third goalie at the 2017 World Championships, Comrie is also no stranger to Team Canada, having represented them at the U17, U18 and U20 level. Comrie was out-played by Fucale at the 2015 World Juniors, but after two seasons with the Manitoba Moose, Comrie is ready to prove himself.

One of Winnipeg’s top prospects, Comrie will be the undisputed starting netminder for the Manitoba Moose and the Jets may want him to get playing time in the AHL instead of backing up at the Olympics, but there’s never a bad time to represent your country.

Clearly, Canada isn’t short on options between the pipes, but they’re lacking a true standout goalie option. You could argue that Carey Price is the guy Canada would have rode had NHLers been allowed at the Olympics, but that doesn’t matter at this point, does it?

Now it’s time for Canada’s forgotten suns to get the job done. And trust me, fans are going to be surprised.

Calgarian who brought hockey to Costa Rica honoured

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By Bill Kaufmann – Calgary Sun

Twenty years after he brought hockey to Central America from his Calgary hometown, the fruits of Bruce Callow’s passion for the game has been recognized by the sport’s shrine.

A crimson jersey worn by his Costa Rican-born son Anthony, a player with that country’s El Castillo Knights is set to be hoisted at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

For former Brentwood resident and Sir Winston Churchill high school graduate Callow, it’s a fitting score to mark two decades in a land better known for steamy jungles, volcanoes and basking iguanas.

And the hall of fame exhibit also reflects the increasing entrenchment of the sport in a region where it remains a novelty.

“We feel great because we’re basically celebrating 20 years of ice hockey here and we’re moving beyond survival,” said Callow, a musician and music teacher who’s lived in Costa Rica since 1992.

The teams, based in the Costa Rican town of Heradia, has also sent the hall souvenir pucks and calendars for a possible exhibit.

They’re mementos of an odyssey that began on plastic “ice,” whose unlikely existence even caught the attention of a hockey-crazy Canadian prime minister and became a weapon of hockey diplomacy at the ambassadorial level.

Bruce Callow. File photo

In 1996, four years into his new life in Costa Rica, Callow became homesick for hockey.

He’d married a local woman and had two sons to whom he wanted to impart that beloved element of his Canadian identity.

“You’d think being in the tropics would cure everything, but it doesn’t cure your urge for hockey,” he said.

The quest for a permanent hockey presence began in the humblest of surroundings — the middle of a shopping mall’s food court.

Skaters of the embryonic movement took to a plastic surface, or “viking ice” made of tiles clad in a silicon liquid.

“Maintaining it got to be a problem,” he said, adding the faux freeze didn’t impress many prospective players.

“You had to sharpen your skates all the time because it dulls them more quickly.”

Nevertheless, the arrangement had an inescapable Canadian flavour: rink boards clad in the Maple Leaf were assembled by a Canadian handyman while the effort was sponsored by a local rock radio station owned by a native of the Great White North.

It drew the startled curiosity of the locals whose idea of a goalie was a soccer netminder, said Callow.

“Kids were watching from the sides saying ‘what’s that?'” he said.

“For the kids learning to skate, it had never been done before, but they were enthusiastic.”

And it wasn’t long before the slowly-growing group which had dubbed themselves Mundo de Hockey, or hockey world, secured real ice at a pleasure rink at the Castillo Country Club.

Callow made a decision to train in the sport’s international style, which emphasizes skill over brute strength, something more palatable to Costa Ricans with an affinity for soccer.

“Their hand-to-foot coordination is superior to Canadians’,” said Callow in 2000.

Eliana Vasco Correa’s son and daughter caught the hockey bug in 2016, quickly pulling their mother into it.

“A couple of weeks later I gave it a try, and loved it,” said Correa, 35, who initial perception of the sport softened.

“When I first saw it, it was a tough and dangerous sport but once I started playing, I found out I was wrong — I felt very safe with all the protective gear.”

Though hockey’s long found traction in hot weather markets like Arizon and Florida, Correa said it remains an odd fit in Central America.

“It’s quite strange in such a tropical climate, but that is part of its charm,” she said.

Since the program’s inception, voyages to the sport’s mother country for sustenance of various types have become essential.

In 2000, the Calgary Flames anted up 20 helmets for their tropical understudies while local sporting good stores followed suit with other equipment.

A year later, the National Hockey League Players’ Association came through with 34 new sets of gear.

“We wouldn’t have gotten here if it hadn’t been for them,” Callow said of the donors.

In the summer of 2011, a particularly promising Costa Rican prospect, David Vargas, got the call from Penticton’s Okanagan Hockey Academy, which provided him with a two-week scholarship at their camp.

Right-winger Vargas, then 17 and a Sidney Crosby devotee, was thrilled by the NHL pedigree of some of its coaches.

“Since they are professional trained hockey players, of course I want to learn from the best ones,” he said at the time.

Vargas has since gone on to become a coach with the Knights, as have Callow’s sons Anthony and Kenneth.

The unlikely puck passions of his young devotees has also been rewarded by trips to Calgary where a pilgrimage to the Scotiabank Saddledome to bask in the Flames’ glow was the highlight.

This coming October, that kind of excursion will skate a stride further as eight members of the Castillo Knights take to the ice for an intermission shootout during a game between the Florida Panthers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

“Those kids have never seen a game before and they’ll be skating on the same ice as Sidney Crosby,” said Callow.

But it was the arrival of a special guest in Costa Rica — Canada’s best-known hockey aficionado — that had a decisive impact on the movement’s fortunes.

Then-prime minister Stephen Harper was speaking at a business leaders’ roundtable in Costa Rica in August, 2011 when Canadian ambassador Neil Reider convinced him to pay the knights a visit.

The previous year, a certificate from Harper praised the program that “provided the youth of Costa Rica with the opportunity to experience the joy of Canada’s national pastime and the world’s greatest sport.”

“Neil planted the idea early to come here — apparently the prime minister wanted to skate with us but it didn’t happen,” said Callow.

But the visit’s gravitas encouraged the Castillo Country Club to cease mulling over an expansion of the rink to actually do it.

It was completed in 2014.

“That visit was instrumental in getting our new rink built,” said Callow.

That was enough to attract new players, including a record number of female enthusiasts and a nucleus of 60 players groomed by homegrown coaches like Serge Salvador, Aurelio Cence and Jorge Castiglione.

It’s also set the stage for Costa Rica’s first hockey tournament in November when teams from Calgary, Los Angeles and Britain’s Falkland Island face off with the hometown Knights.

The latter squad was wooed by Callow through connections made when he led a group of journalists to the islands in 2012 as a staffer with the British diplomatic corps.

They’ll be up against players with a bit of individualist streak, said the movement’s founder.

“I’d call it an offensive style, a tendency to stick handle all the way to the end of the ice,” said Callow.

“I’ll say ‘hey, can you pass it to me, please?'”

It’s a request made in Spanish, or Callow’s best custom-crafted hockey Spanglish.

Burke, Brodeur, Desjardins headline management team for Canada’s Olympic squad

By Craig Hagerman – The Score

Hockey Canada unveiled the management team Tuesday that will be tasked with building the country’s Olympic roster for the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.Former NHL goalie Sean Burke, currently scouting for the Montreal Canadiens, will serve as general manager, while Martin Brodeur, assistant GM of the St. Louis Blues, will be part of the management team.

Former Vancouver Canucks bench boss Willie Desjardins will coach the club.

Burke and Brodeur will work alongside Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney, president and COO Scott Smith, and vice president of hockey operations Scott Salmond.

Filling out the rest of Desjardins’ coaching staff will be assistant coaches Dave King, Scott Walker, and Craig Woodcroft.

“This is an exciting time for Hockey Canada and for our national men’s team program, and it will be an exciting season for Canadian hockey fans,” said Renney. “The goal is always to field the best possible team in all upcoming competitions, including this February when we hit the world’s biggest sporting stage in Pyeongchang. The faces on our Team Canada rosters may be different than in previous years, but the expectations will be the same; with the addition of Sean, Martin, Willie, Dave, Scott, and Craig, we have assembled some of the best hockey minds out there to help us meet those expectations of on-ice success.”

Canada’s men’s national team will participate in two tournaments in Russia this August – the Sochi Hockey Open and the Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov – as an evaluation process for choosing the final names that will head to the Olympics.

Here is a look at Canada’s roster for the Sochi Hockey Open, taking place from Aug. 6-9,

“These first two events allow us to continue a player evaluation process that began last season with our Deutschland Cup and Spengler Cup teams,” said Salmond. “We will continue to look at the best available players to us – these two tournaments being the next opportunity to see some of the talent we can select from.”

Canada is looking to capture gold in men’s hockey for the third straight games and the fourth time since 2002.

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