Category: South America (Page 1 of 2)

Rudy Hodgson, DePaul club hockey goalie, helping grow the game with Team Colombia

Hodgson in net for Team Colombia. Courtesy of Rudy Hodgson

By Darcy Waskiewicz – DePaulia Online

Playing for your home country is always a special honor. Senior hockey player Rudy Hodgson knows this all too well.

A dual citizen for Colombia and the United States, Hodgson played hockey for Team USA when he was younger. And in the past few years, he has been able to play for Team Colombia as well. This week he gets the chance to do that again.

On Oct. 10, Hodgson left to play with Team Colombia in the LATAM Cup, which is hosted by the Florida Panthers of the National Hockey League and takes place from Oct. 14-17 at Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs, Fla.

The tournament includes teams from all over Latin America and the Caribbean that come to battle each other for a spot at the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) tournament, which takes place in Germany next year.

Hodgson first got involved with Team Colombia a few years ago through a family member, but his hockey-playing days began long before that.

Hodgson began playing hockey at the age of four and never looked back. A Los Angeles native, he grew up an LA Kings fan and played for their junior’s team, as well as in high school. All those things led him to where he is now — a goaltender for DePaul’s club team.

“I can’t really imagine a time in my life when I wasn’t ice skating or playing hockey,” Hodgson said. “So, I got involved through there, played high school, played club for the Kings and was fortunate enough to play not only for Colombia, but for Team USA for a couple years, so I’ve been really lucky to have a successful career so far.”

Growing up a Kings fan, Hodgson looked up to Jonathan Quick, the main goaltender for the team since 2008 who helped the team win two Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014. While playing for the King’s junior team, Hodgson was able to practice with Quick at times and learn from him as a fellow goaltender.

As a goaltender, Hodgson is the last line of defense on the team before the puck crosses the goal line into the net, but that was not the position he planned to play while growing up.

Hodgson became a goaltender around the age of seven or eight when his team’s goaltender didn’t show up. He was thrown into the position by his coach and picked up the position quickly. While he never intended to play the position, it has worked out for him in the end.

“Hockey’s taken me around the world,” Hodgson said. “So, it was a happy accident that I just kind of ran with and tried to make the most of it for sure.”

Now as a senior on the DePaul club hockey team, Hodgson serves as one of the unofficial leaders on the team.

“Whenever he speaks up or has something to say, people listen,” AJ Grzbek, Hodgson’s DePaul teammate and fellow goaltender, said. “He’s always been there for me, he’s there for everybody. Everybody loves him. He’s a great teammate, and for Team Colombia to have him, that’s just perfect, it works great.”

With the hope of continuing to play hockey after he graduates, Hodgson works hard on and off the ice to develop his game as much as he can, but he still tries to have fun and enjoy his senior year.

“He’s always the guy that wants to do extra stuff and learn extra things,” head coach Dan Wood said. “And there’s no surprise that he’s able to make this team, and I’m sure he’ll do great when he gets out there.”

When Hodgson first began playing with Team Colombia a few years ago, the team was not federalized by the government or considered a national team by the IIHF. That changed when Colombia joined the IIHF in 2019 and were able to play against other national teams.

Now, hockey is progressing in Colombia, but there’s still more room for growth. Hodgson is excited to be a part of that and help the game grow even more by playing with Team Colombia next weekend.

“At the end of the day, I’m there to win,” Hodgson said. “But I think the biggest thing that I would want to take away from this tournament is knowing that I helped contribute to the growth of hockey in Colombia and continue to do so with my style of play and hopefully with a little bit of success in there too.”

The Argentine Ice Hockey Team participates in the Latam Cup in Florida

Argentina going to the Latam cup 2021

Source: Seman Arioargentino

The Argentine Ice Hockey Team will participate in the third edition of the Latam Cup to be held from October 14 to 17 at the Florida Panthers Ice Den in the city of Coral Springs, FL.

In the previous editions of the tournament, the Argentine team registered resounding triumphs against Mexico, Venezuela, and above all in both editions of the classic against Brazil. The Argentine National Team will seek in this edition to return to the medal podium, a place that it occupied with the bronze medal achieved in the 2017 Pan American Championship in Mexico City.

After not taking place in 2020 due to the global pandemic situation, the Latam Cup this year will have the participation of six national teams in its highest division.

In Division I Group A it will be Argentina, Puerto Rico, and Mexico while Group B is made up of Colombia, Lebanon, and Venezuela. The winners of their respective groups qualify directly to the semi-finals, while the second and third parties will play the quarterfinals.

Beyond this, the tournament will also have a female and Junior category, as well as a Men’s Division B (in which Brazil and Chile participate), although this time for the first time without the participation of Argentine teams due to a pandemic.

The current squad is made up of several players residing in Argentina, as well as abroad.

Among its players are Owen Haiek who participated in the Inline Hockey World Cup in Bratislava, Slovakia and until 2019 player of the Ontario Hockey Academy in Canada; Matias Weir, former captain of the Palm Beach Hawks and current Florida Atlantic University player; Ethan and Brody Lim from the South Florida Hockey Academy, Tomas Abrate, former Notre Dame varsity player; and several players from the Club Andino Ushuaia. Technical Director is Mr. Dicky Haiek, veteran of numerous IIHF World Inline Hockey World Cups with the Argentine National Team.

The Argentine team is recognized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) through the Argentine Association of Ice Hockey and Inline (AAHHL), in turn a member of the Argentine Olympic Committee.

This will be the seventh time Argentine men’s team will play in a international tournament.

The entrance to all the games is free and free, as well is the parking. The tournament will take place at the Panthers Ice Den, the Florida Panthers training center, located at 3299 Sportsplex. Dr., Coral Springs FL 33065

The fixtures of all categories, as well as more information about the tournament, are available at Amerigol Latam Cup

End of the World’ discovers Para ice hockey

our players are currently practicing Para ice hockey at Ushuaia’s outdoor ice rink
ⒸNicolas Badaracco

By Stuart LiebermanWorld Para Ice Hockey

Nicolas Badaracco has been a goaltender on Argentina’s national ice hockey team since it made its international debut in 2012.

Now, he is dedicating just as much time to his sport off the ice. He is working to bring Para ice hockey to the “End of the World,” otherwise known as Ushuaia, the southernmost city at the tip of Argentina.

Ushuaia is the first known city in Latin America where Para ice hockey is starting to take off.

“Everyone has to have the opportunity to play ice hockey,” Badaracco said. “Here, there are a lot of people who cannot even try to play because the sport barely exists. So, I started investigating how Para ice hockey works, and then I started to make plans for how to build my own sledge and made drawings for it.”

Badaracco has played ice hockey since he was 11 years old, experiencing the sport at the international level while also coaching the next generation of players in his country. Additionally, he now works as the manager of Ushuaia’s Olympic-sized outdoor ice rink.

In 2019, he flew to Miami, Florida with Argentina’s national team to compete in the LATAM Cup, a tournament held to help grow the sport’s presence throughout Latin American countries.

Prior to one of his games he met Ron Robichaud, the head coach of the Florida Sled Bandits team. Robichaud invited Badaracco to try Para ice hockey for the first time while he was there.

“It was amazing,” Badaracco said. “It’s very hard. Even for me, as someone who plays hockey for a living and who knows his body, it was very hard. To skate straight is hard – at least the first time, but after that you can learn.”

Robichaud gifted Badaracco a sledge after that so he could take it back to Argentina as a model to copy and create several more.

In Miami, Badaracco also met Karina Villegas, a forward on the USA women’s development Para ice hockey team who lost her right leg at age 13 after being struck by a government vehicle while standing outside a school in Venezuela.

Villegas, who fled to the USA in 2001, immediately agreed to help him introduce Para ice hockey to Latin American countries.

“When I met her in Florida, she fell in love with the idea and brought me some sticks — my first Para ice hockey sticks — so I could copy those sticks here in my country,” he said.

Badaracco has since recruited four athletes with a disability to the sport locally. He is working with the local government in hopes of receiving funds from the Ministry of Education to help grow Para ice hockey, but budgets are now frozen due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the meantime, from 30 November to 4 December, he will lead a Para ice hockey information session as part of the Facundo Rivas Tournament, an annual multi-sport festival for people with a disability.

This year, the event will be held virtually for participants in Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile and Uruguay. Villegas will also be helping out with the festival.

“There are a lot of people who can probably play they sport, yet they don’t even know what it is,” Badaracco said.

“There is going to be a model to showcase how Para ice hockey is played and how they can develop this sport in their cities. I already have four athletes who are training here, and I’m trying to adapt my sledge for people to use on all surfaces with wheels, too,” he added.

LATAM Cup and Hockey in Latin America is Fueled by Passion

By Mike Lewis – Florida Panthers

Passion for the game has no limits or borders.

For South Florida native Juan Carlos Otero, the burgeoning hockey scene in Latin America is what inspired him to found Amerigol Miami International Hockey Association.

A self-professed “hockey fanatic” of Colombian heritage, Otero operates Amerigol with the mission of growing hockey’s presence throughout Latin America by organizing tournaments and showcases.

Although his love of hockey began during the Panthers magical 1995-96 Year of the Rat season, the seeds of Amerigol were firmly planted when he first discovered Colombia’s infatuation with hockey, more notably inline hockey during a trip to Bogota in 2017.

Otero, the General Manager of the ACHA Div. III University of Miami hockey club, formed a relationship with the Colombian National Team as he helped organize a training camp in South Florida to help them transition their inline game to the ice before heading to Mexico for the 2017 Pan American Games. Once witnessing firsthand the passion for hockey in Latin America at those Games and the chance to spread the word, Otero began constructing his plan for the LATAM Cup, an international tournament spotlighting the talent and hockey community tucked away in Latin America.

Hosted at the Panthers IceDen in Coral Springs, Fla., the first LATAM Cup was held in 2018, with five teams and roughly 90 players competing in one division. Just one year later, the 2019 LATAM Cup’s participation soared to 21 teams, four divisions and nearly 400 players. Divisions included D1, D2, U16 and a Women’s Division while also adding teams from the Caribbean, like Jamaica, who won the 2019 D1 tournament in thrilling fashion.

“Where (the LATAM Cup) is at now, I’m completely blown away, but I’m not surprised,” said Otero. “I’m not a cocky person, but I kind of knew this had the potential to grow because of what I saw (in Colombia). Their (inline) rink is like a family hub. They have over 640 players registered for inline hockey. From the U-8s all the way to adults.”

Recently named to the NHL’s Youth Hockey Inclusion Committee, Otero aims to share his passion for the game in the League’s efforts to grow the game and provide both inspiration and inclusivity for Latinx, Hispanic and minority youths to have the opportunities to learn and play hockey.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am. The NHL has worked really hard in creating initiatives to grow the game of hockey and to change the stigma that it’s just a white person’s sport. I have a lot of ideas and this will be a great place to voice them and get feedback on them.”

While the NHL continues to broaden its diversity and inclusion approach, Otero looks to the sports community as a whole, its connection to Latin America and his hockey pilgrimage to Colombia that fuels the dedication to his mission.

“Why can’t the next NHL superstar in 15 years come from Latin America?” said Otero. “In every other sport there have been superstars that have come out of Latin America. I think that it’s important for the NHL’s growth 15 years down the line to have players with names like ‘Lopez’ and ‘Fernandez’ on the backs of jerseys to grow your fanbase.”

“It’s the same over there (in Colombia). It’s a hockey community just like it is here. They love this game as much if not more than we do. You talk to these kids and they know what happened last night in the NHL.”

In September of 2019, Colombia became an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), becoming the fifth Latin American Country to join the IIHF after Mexico, Argentina, Brazil and Chile.

The next LATAM Cup is set to be Amerigol’s largest endeavor yet, with a new U12 division and a tremendous increase of 35-40 teams from countries in Latin America and the Carribbean. Most interestingly, that number doesn’t even include teams from Africa and Asia who had enthusiastically extended their interest in participating.

Traditionally held in early September, the tournament has since been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when it comes to organizing the next LATAM Cup during these unprecedented times, Otero refuses to make final decisions without speaking to the teams and countries that helped make the tournament possible in the first place.

“I wouldn’t have this tournament if it wasn’t for them. It’s important everyone has a say in this event.”

A hockey dad at heart, whose son Chris captured Gold with Team Colombia in the 2019 U16 LATAM Cup Tournament, Otero is thrilled for the future of the tournament as well as the potential growth of the game he loves so dearly.

“These kids have the same (passion). Growing the game within the community. This whole tournament is a win-win-win for everybody. As this tournament continues to grow, more people become aware that people play hockey (in Latin America).”

“Seeing these kids come off the ice win or lose, they have the biggest smile on their face. To me that’s what it’s all about.”

Argentine players overcoming hurdles to get on ice

By William Douglas –

Argentine hockey players have to go to the end of the world if they want to play a five-on-five game in their country.

With small ice rinks in large cities like Buenos Aires, an Olympic-sized outdoor rink Ushuaia, a town at the southernmost tip of South America with a sign in Spanish that says “fin del mundo” — end of the world — is the only option for a full game.

“We don’t have a lot of economic help to promote the sport,” said Jorge Dicky Haiek, coach of Argentina’s men’s national team, “so we need to create, promote the sport and be better and better with our resources. It’s very difficult.”

Argentina’s men’s and women’s teams overcome several hurdles to play the game they love in a soccer and basketball-obsessed South American country of nearly 45 million people.

Like their Latin American rivals that competed in the 2019 Amerigol LATAM Cup tournament held at the Florida Panthers IceDen in September, most of Argentina’s players are in-line hockey players who transition to ice when it becomes available.

Hockey is an expensive sport in the United States and Canada, but more so in countries like Argentina because of the currency exchange rates, shipping charges (if buying online) and taxes.

“We don’t have sticks there (in Argentina),” Haiek said. “We have to go to Miami; someone goes, picks up the sticks, carries them on the flight. It’s very difficult; the import, the export.”

Rather than spend hundreds or thousands of dollars to replace broken sticks, skates and other items, some players turn to Argentine women’s coach Roberto “Racki” Villagra, who has become the go-to guy in the country for making damaged hockey equipment good as new.

Affectionately nicknamed after the burly tough guy in the 1986 hockey movie “Youngblood,” Villagra delicately uses carbon fiber and epoxy to fix shattered or splintering sticks.

At the Amerigol Cup, Villagra proudly displayed a repaired stick he’s been using since 2009, noting that it has the same flex as when it was first purchased.

He also showed off “Frankenskate,” a beat-up pair of Bauer boots used by an Argentine player for ice and in-line hockey. The blades are interchangeable, held to the boots by easily removable screws and bolts instead of rivets.

“There’s no pro shop there, there’s only one person that imports that stuff, and it’s really, really expensive,” said Leana Villagra, Racki’s daughter, whose 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in three games helped lead Argentina to the Amerigol Cup women’s championship. “It’s better to fix it over and over again, and that’s what he does.”

Fixing what would be considered unrepairable in North America and traveling great distances (Ushuaia is nearly 1,475 miles from Buenos Aires by air) to play on a regulation-sized rink shows the love some Argentines have for hockey.

Argentina has been an associate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation since 1998. The country has 1,060 players; 630 men, 290 women and 140 juniors.

“We have a heart, passion and creativity, like (soccer star) Messi and (former NBA player) Manu Ginobili,” Haiek said. “We work so hard to involve all the kids to play because it’s the best sport of the world — ice hockey and in-line hockey is the best of the world.”

Brazil men’s national hockey team working hard to catch rivals

By William Douglas

Five-year-old program making strides in Latin American, Caribbean circuit

Jens Hinderlie felt like Herb Brooks.

Just like the legendary coach who led the U.S. men’s hockey team to an improbable gold medal at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics, Hinderlie was tapped in 2015 for the seemingly improbable task of helping build a competitive national ice hockey team for Brazil.

“I showed up, watched all these guys play inline hockey and picked the team, essentially like Herb Brooks did,” said Hinderlie, who is from Minnesota, like Brooks, and coached ice hockey in Alaska before he moved to Brazil, his wife’s country. “Not being one too familiar with inline…I assumed it would easily translate to ice. Literally, the first day of practice when we showed up (on ice) in 2015, I had to change my entire plan for what I wanted to do and immediately bought six more hours of ice time.”

In life, you crawl before you walk. For the Brazil hockey team, most players learned to fall before they could skate. But it didn’t take them long to catch on, Hinderlie said.

“We really had to revert back to the basics: doing basic skating, learning how to fall and get up, but the guys really learned fast and picked it up quickly,” he said. “In literally in the span of four days, I taught them everything from the face-off to the break outs to really when to change lines. It came together very fast and the players were receptive.”

Brazil has been a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation since 1984, despite the absence of a regulation-sized hockey ice rink in the country. There are 330 hockey players in a nation of almost 207.4 million people

Hinderlie and his team did manage to pull off their own miracle, finishing third in Brazil’s second appearance at the Pan American Ice Hockey Tournament in 2015 in Mexico City. The third-place finish reflected improvement over Brazil’s Pan American debut in 2014 under a diffferent coach when it finished fifth with 0-4 record that included a 16-0 loss to host country Mexico.

Brazil in action vs Argentina at the Latam Cup

But at the 2019 Amerigol LATAM hockey tournament at the Florida Panthers IceDen near Miami earlier this month, Brazil’s men’s Division I and women’s teams were winless and the men’s Division II team managed only one victory.

But players left Florida pleased that they had an opportunity to get on the ice and pumped about the work ahead of them to catch up to their Latin American and Caribbean hockey rivals.

“We got a lot of exposure and all the teams have grown so much — Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Mexico,” Brazilian player Henrique Degani said of the Amerigol Cup. “From last year to this year, that’s when I saw the game improve the most for Latin America.”

Latam Cup Round-Up

By Ryan Bahl – National Teams of Ice Hockey

The LATAM Cup is a development tournament for players from the Americas with a focus on Latin American and the Caribbean. This year’s tournament included four divisions including Men’s Div 1, Men’s Div 2, U16, and Women’s. The Women’s Division hosted Argentina, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil with Argentina beating Colombia 4-2 in the final. The U16 division hosted Argentina, Colombia, Stanley (Falklands) and USA with Colombia beating Argentina 3-1 in the finals to take gold. The Men’s Div 2 hosted Puerto Rico, Rest of the World (the Falklands), Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina. The ROTW team beat Puerto Rico 6-2 and won the Div. 2 title. The top Men’s Division hosted Jamaica, Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico, Argentina, Chile and Brazil with Jamaica beating Colombia 4-2 in the top division in double overtime.

Argentina and Colombia had great showings as they were the only two countries represented at every level. Colombia finished in the top 3 in each of it’s respected divisions. Each division had a different country win their respected title as well (Jamaica, ROTW, Argentina, Colombia).

For me personally – I played with the ROTW team made up of primarily British nationals and Commonwealth citizens who have either lived or worked in the Falkland Islands (the smallest nation to ever play ice hockey). The level of play was naturally a bit mixed in the 2nd division because teams were made up of inline players, dek hockey players, and ice hockey players, some of whom have never skated on a full sized ice rink before (including our very own players Sam Cockwell and Claudio Ross with ROTW). For a lot of countries represented in this tournament – they primarily play inline hockey because they do not have access to ice or only get to play ice maybe once or twice a year.

The top men’s division was a bit better (in terms of skill level) compared to the second division with most players living and playing in North America. For example – some of the Jamaican team included players playing or living in Canada. These players do of course have direct ties and family members residing or from Jamaica. Access to ice and high-level competitive hockey is obviously more available throughout North America. Players in division one also included current professional players playing throughout North America. The main difference in skill level between these divisions was really just the access to ice and how often players from these teams are able to skate and play.

The U16 and Women’s divisions ended up being really competitive as well with Colombia and Argentina playing each other in both finals and with one team winning each division (Colombia U16 and Argentina for Women’s). A lot of players from both teams and both divisions arrived early in Florida to attend a Goalie and Sniper camp in order to get more ice time leading up to the tournament.

It’s been a few days since the tournament and I have already seen tremendous support pour in on social media including posts and shares from the NHL, IIHF, Spittin’ Chiclets Podcast, National Teams of Ice Hockey, and many others.

Overall, the tournament exceeded my expectations and was ran very professionally with some major sponsors onboard (Warrior Hockey and the Florida Panthers). Juan Carlos and the Amerigol Team did an amazing job bringing together 21 teams and 360 players to such an important development cup for Latin American teams and players. I would love to continue my involvement with this cup and can’t wait to see what next year brings!

Finnish Chilean plays ice-hockey in Miami

By Foreigners In Finland

Camilo Gaez, 40 years old, is representing Chile in Miami to play ice hockey. Chile’s national ice hockey team will participate in the Latam Cup, and according to Camilo, it’s the former Pan American Ice Hockey Tournament. The humble Finnish-born Latino player is playing in the leading annual international ice hockey competition for Latin America.

The future of ice hockey is the south says Juan Carlos Otero, the general manager of the University of Miami’s ice hockey team, in an interview at The Latam Cup originated in 2014 and it has grown since then, adding more groups and country members each year. Most of the Latin American countries will also be there: Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, and the Falkland Islands. There are also hockey games for the seniors, ladies, youth 16s, and children 12s divisions.

He was born in Finland by Chilean parents who sought asylum. Since he was a young boy, he has always loved playing ice hockey and remains an enthusiastic winter sports fan. He participated in Red Bull Crash Ice a few years ago and made it to the finals. He has about 1200 supporters, most of them from Latin America. He joined the competition when he was already 36 years old and until today, he is one of the pioneer Latino representatives in the Crash Ice Competition.

This hot blood and chill Latino cannot only skate but also jump and crush some ice. He can also play ice hockey. So why should he not bring the championship to Chile?

Markham teen goalie set to stop pucks for Chile’s national hockey squad

James Vargas will join Chile’s men’s national team for the 2019 Amerigol Latam Cup hockey tournament starting Sept. 6. He is shown with goaltending coach Carson Bird of Carson Bird Goalie School

By John Cudmore – York Region

Countless Canadian kids grow up dreaming about representing their country on hockey’s international stage.

James Vargas might fall into that category, too.

But with Chilean ancestry, it would be difficult to find a reason for the Markham resident to dream about donning a hockey jersey on behalf of his father’s homeland.

Until now.

The 16-year-old goaltender is scheduled to fly Sept. 4 to Miami where he will join Chile’s national men’s hockey team to participate in the 2019 AmeriGol Latam Cup.

“No, actually, I didn’t know about it,” admits Vargas, a Grade 11 student at St. Augustine Catholic High School in Markham. “Hockey in South America is brand new. I don’t even know what calibre or style of play there will be. I’m going to have to figure it out when I get there.”

The Latam Cup tournament includes several Latin American national hockey teams competing in the weeklong event that concludes Sept. 7. The tournament also includes under-16 and women’s divisions.

Chile is scheduled to face off against Venezuela in its opening game on Sept. 6.

A former member of the Markham Waxers, Vargas plays for the Don Mills Flyers midgets in the Greater Toronto Hockey League.

A coach from a Montreal team connected to the Chilean program saw Vargas play last season. He approached his father, Javier, with an offer to consider playing for the under-18 Chilean team.

That team failed to materialize, but he was invited to join the senior men’s squad.

“It didn’t take long … about a minute,” Vargas said of his decision to accept. “I’m a little bit nervous, being so young and excited, too.

“It’s my first time to play hockey on an international stage. It’ll be interesting to see what comes to the table.”

He is qualified to play, through his father, who left Chile for North America as a nine-year-old.

The Latam Cup is being contested at the NHL Florida Panthers’ Ice Den in Coral Springs.

Known more for in-line hockey, Chile is an affiliate member of the International Ice Hockey Federation. Chile made its international debut in 2017.

The Falklands are coming: hockey’s smallest nation looking for big results

By Steven Ellis – The Hockey News

The small nation may be famous for a war, but through the work of a group of dedicated individuals, hockey is quickly picking up steam in one of the most unlikely destinations. This is the story of hockey on the Falkland Islands.

Roughly 3,000 inhabitants call the Falkland Islands home. Around 150 of them play hockey.

Located just south of Argentina and 5,600 miles from Miami, Fla., the Falklands are the smallest hockey nation on record, making up one of the 14 British Overseas Territories. The Falkland Islands have the 222nd largest economy out of 229 nations according to the GDP, and many of the Falklands’ culture traditions stem from British settlers.

So, naturally, it’s a perfect place for hockey.

In fact, when you visit the Hockey Hall of Fame, you’ll find Ryan Bahl’s jersey from the 2015 Copa Invernada Tournament in Punta Arenas, Chile, the first ice hockey tournament the Falklands took part in. It was a ceremonious introduction to the sport for the nation, which won all four games to take home gold. The kicker? There isn’t an ice rink on the Falkland Islands. Granted, a few of the players had experience on ice, but it was a new venture for some and the first time the group got to play on the ice together.

Winning gold in your first attempt is hard enough, especially when you have limited experience on the surface you’re playing on, but to follow that up with another medal? Good luck. But since 2015, the Falkland Islands have won bronze in Costa Rica at the inaugural International Ice Hockey Tournament, featuring club teams from Canada and the United States and gold at all four levels of the 2018 Mega Patagonian Cup in the Punta Arenas. They’ve never actually finished a tournament without winning a medal, which is almost unheard of.

Since there isn’t a local ice rink, players take part in dek (ball) and inline hockey, allowing them to develop basic footwork skills to get them up to speed for their annual adventures on the ice. Former British pro ice hockey player Grant Budd started dek hockey in a small gym back in 2006, with inline launching in 2017 – with player involvement growing rapidly. The gym is only just a tad bigger than a zone in an NHL-sized rink, but they make do with what they have.

Now, the Falkland Islands are ready for the big stage, relatively speaking.

In early September, the organization will make the jump to 5-on-5 hockey against other international teams at the Amerigol Latam Cup. The tournament, put on in partnership with the Florida Panthers in Coral Springs, Fla., features teams from North and South America in men’s, women’s and U-16 levels. It was previously known as the Pan-American Ice Hockey Games, with Colombia and Mexico being the teams to beat each year (Mexico is lone full IIHF member, allowing it to participate in IIHF tournaments). Canada even sent a team once, winning the inaugural tournament in 2014 back when the Mexican federation organized it. The goal is to help grow hockey in the in the Americas. but participation opened up to the Caribbean to allow further growth. Jamaica and Puerto Rico are among the other teams making tournament debuts.

The 2019 edition of the Latam Cup – the second in its current form – will mark the first time Falkland has participated against a tournament full of international teams, but with a catch: you won’t find a team called the Falkland Islands on the schedule. The second division men’s unit will be called ‘Rest of the World,’ with players also coming from Canada, the United States, Norway and the United Kingdom. The youth team, Stanley, will play against Argentina, Colombia and the United States in the U-16 division.

Ryan Bahl’s jersey in the Hockey Hall of Fame

Experience is not on the side of the Falkland Islands. Take team media coordinator and vice-chairman Sam Cockwell, for example. Cockwell didn’t play hockey growing up, but the sport’s speed and competitiveness hooked him almost immediately when he first tried it a few years ago.

“(Grant Budd) said, ‘You’ve got to try inline because you like playing dek hockey,’ ” Cockwell said. “I was the worst skater anyone has ever seen. But since then, it has taken over my house and my life. Through the friendships you make, and the people you know, it has been an amazing club to be part of.”

The Latam Cup is a small start, but baby steps are needed to help the team grow. The goal at first was to go to Chile and just have a good showing: medals at both iterations they played at helped. Cockwell hopes the local government will see the sport continue to grow in the Falkland Islands and eventually build a small rink to play ice hockey on regularly. The Falkland Islands are not close to playing in any IIHF tournaments, but the growth over the past few years is impressive: from ball hockey in the gym to travelling to other countries and continents to play on the ice, the team members have had to overcome challenges just to play the sport they love.

“There’s been incredible support here in terms of helping us get sponsorship to pay for flights because it is horrifyingly expensive for us to go to Miami,” Cockwell said. “We’ve had a few big sponsors every year that have helped us out with accommodation, and a lot of them help us buy equipment.”

The team takes pride in the youth program, developing kids early with hopes of building a solid foundation for the senior squad. It’s a long-term project but one with a true aboriginal feel.

“They’ve just developed so much,” Cockwell said. “They’re actually becoming very good hockey players. We went from there being one youth league – the elite league is what it’s called now – to there being four youth leagues and a strong senior league as well.”

In a sport as expensive as hockey, building a homegrown program without major government assistance is challenging. There’s no positive return on investment, and everything comes at the expense of missing work and leaving loved ones behind. A team this small has its share of obstacles – it’ll cost more than $2100 for each player to participate – but the love of the game makes it worth it.

“Just being on the cusp of this big kind of level change for us, going from regional to a national level, it’s an exciting time for us,” Cockwell said.

Members of the Falkland Islands dek hockey program

« Older posts