By Maxim Garashchuk – National Teams of Ice Hockey

In 2000, Ukrainian striker Danylo Didkovsky moved from Sokol Kiev to Spanish Club CH Jaca. Danylo continues to work in Spanish hockey. He is the technical director of Barcelona. In an interview with our site, Danylo Didkovsky spoke about his career, the popularity of hockey in Spain and who are the local players look up to.

 Tell us about how you ended up in Spain?

It happened in 2000. I was invited to Spain by Sergei Zemchenko, a former hockey player, now a coach. I think that many people know him – he played in “Sokol”. Recently he  worked as a  trainer at Severstal (KHL) and was a assistant at Almaz (MHL). At that time Sergei worked as a coach of the local club “CH Jaca” and he told me to come to Spain to play if I had no other proposals. Then at the very last moment Germany fell through. So I came to CH Jaca. I thought it was for a couple of years, but it turned out that I am still in Spain.

In Spain you played for two teams?

Yes, the first team was CH Jaca, which I have already mentioned. The second is Barcelona. In 2008, I was invited there by Evgeny Semeriak, a famous hockey player who played for Dynamo Riga in the Soviet Union. For three seasons, I was just a player, then I became a player coach, then I became the head coach, and now I work as the technical director.

Barcelona’s team photo in the 2008/2009 championship season

Do you only work for Barcelona – is this your main job?

 Yes, I only do hockey. 

What happened in the 2007/08 season? ( according to statistical sites Danylo Didkovsky  did not play that season)

I started that season at CH Jaca, but because of problems with the Ice rink, we played only six weeks, our club was removed and the statistics were not counted.

In the 2016/2017 season, you again took to the ice with the Catalan team?

Yes. I continued to train and played a couple of decisive games. I also Coached the team.

What was the feeling of playing on the same team with your son?

During training, I try to treat him like everyone else, and not my son. That is, there are more expectations than from other players. Sometimes it happened that he was offended and asked why you yell at me more than at some of the local players (lol). We didn’t really intersect on the ice, so I didn’t really feel it.

Danil Didkovsky with his son Stanislav

An incident occurred in the first round of this season of the Spanish Championship?

Yes, it happened in Majadahonda, in the suburbs of Madrid. We went out on the ice and it turned out that during the Spanish anthem, the grandmother of one of the hockey players felt sick. She was reanimated right in front of everyone in the stands. For 10 minutes we tried to bring her to her senses, but she did not react. Everyone was in shocked. Moreover, this person was a close relative of one of the hockey players who did not have parents. By mutual agreement, it was decided to postpone this game to February, And this grandmother, unfortunately, died a day or two later, she had a heart attack.

And last year in Barcelona in the pre-qualification for the Olympic Games, the ice began to melt.

In Barcelona, ​​the skating rink is from the 1980s and it turns out that before the tournament it was melting it was necessary to impose markings and logos of the organizers. In some places where the ice was not frozen enough. There was a “hole” in the middle of the ice, it was not possible to freeze it, so the game was postponed to January.

Were there any consequences?

No, Spain and the Netherlands were not to blame here. The Dutch just had to visit us twice. In any case, it was clear that they were  stronger than the Spaniards, so they beat them, but our guys put up a good a fight (on January 8, 2020, the Netherlands beat Spain with a score of 5: 3)

Compare the level of hockey in Spain with Portugal and France?

As far as I know, there is no hockey in Portugal. At least I haven’t heard about it. And speaking of France, we have had a joint youth league with them in the U13 and U15 categories. From France there were teams from southern cities, from Spain there were clubs from the northern part of the country. There is no difference at this age. Everyone knows that France used to play in the elite division. They have professional teams that show high level hockey. Their players train 5-6 times and play 2-3 games a week – this is the main difference from our championship. We have one game a week and a maximum of two or three trainings.

Danil Didkovsky coaches Barcelona U16

 There is one league in Spain. Right?

Yes. Liga Nacional de Hockey Hielo . In the best years, the number of teams were eight, and now there are only five teams. The Federation is trying to increase the numbers, but so far there is no comprehensive approach to this. There is no interest from the state to build new ice rinks.

Earlier in the championship there was a team “Milenio Lograno”, which was losing to absolutely everyone. Does such a club make sense?

 I think it makes sense when it comes to the long-term perspective. Today they have children’s teams in the cities of Vitoria and Pamplona, but they have no adult teams. They prepare players for under 18, and then they either have to end their careers or move to other cities. Making an adult team  and adding up to five foreigners is a very good idea and would be stronger teams. However, this requires perspective and patience. If you do this for three to five years, it would be a big expense. Nobody wants to do this, except for a few enthusiasts. The team will stay for a year and fall apart. Now in the championship there are five clubs that are more or less stable, and these clubs have an interest from the cities.

How has the popularity of ice hockey changed in Spain during your stay?

By the way, I recently talked about this topic with people whom I have known for many years. Interest will goes up, then it goes down . Roughly the popularity has remained the same. The rural towns of Jaca and Puigcerda have high attendance for games prior to the coronavirus. This makes me happy. Then there are three clubs in Madrid, San Sebastian and Barcelona. It depends on the success of the club. If the season was successful, then yes, the stands will be filled. If not, then there very few people in the stands. In general, I think that the interest in hockey in all cities is the same.

Are there many more people in Barcelona who do not know that there is a club in their city that plays hockey?

Most of them. I think that about 20-30 percent know about the existence of Barcelona playing hockey.  It happens that foreigners who have been working in the city for three or four years, or local residents, hear from someone that there is a hockey Barcelona in the city and are surprised, they say, “We hear about this all the time.” Everyone knows about basketball, which is played in the same Blaugrana sports palace, but not about hockey.

Danil Didkovskiy accepts congratulations after Barcelona U16 win in the playoffs in the 2015/2016 season

Are Barcelona hockey players paid?

Barça pays, but only the best players. In my opinion, six hockey players are paid this season. We have foreigners who come to study or work and do not get anything for playing hockey. We have a young team, the average age is 22 years old and the bulk are students.

How did the situation with COVID-19 affect Spanish hockey?

 Due to the coronavirus, the number of foreigners has decreased, and the budget has been cut for clubs.

Does Spain have a women’s hockey league?

Yes, and the most interesting thing is that it has more teams than the men’s league.

Who do Spanish hockey players look up to?

If we talk about people from Czech, Canadian and Russian families, then they are equal to the NHL players. Of course, the locals are also watched.

Do you think Rafael Diaz is the most famous hockey player in Spain?

I’m sure that few people know Rafael Diaz. I think it depends on the generation. Now hearing Ander Alcaine – a good goalkeeper who managed to play in the Magnus League and even won a playoff in the “Briançon”. He is not currently playing. At one time, he went to a training camp in Toronto. If we compare him with others, then we can say that he achieved high results. About 20 years ago, when I played, there were also excellent hockey players who showed decent hockey in France.

How would you rate the game of the Spanish national team?

Youth hockey has grown. Over the past 10 years, the geography of youth teams has expanded, hence the competition. There was a mass good results of the teams under 18 and 20 years old. The progress is visible. For Spain, it is a huge plus that a good generation is growing up. The Spaniards are scattered all over the world, like  Rafael Diaz. The federation is gradually bringing players with Spanish citizenship to the national team. In this regard, the federation began to work harder.

 For the last two years Spain U20 has retained its position only thanks to one victory.

 I think that there is simply not enough experience. I just went to the last youth world championship when Spain was playing and watched the games. There is literally not enough experience and understanding that every mistake at this level is punished. In any case, we keep our position by winning one game is a good result. We have been playing at this level for only a couple of years, and now the task is only to gain a foothold. While we will not make plans for the future, Spain is neither Canada nor Russia, which can recruit three teams. Much depends on how lucky you are with the younger generation. This is about the same as the Belgium national football team. Now they have a good line-up, and the last time was in 1986.

Spain U18 celebrates Division IIB victory in 2017/2018

Who do you think, should Spain follow the example of Romania, South Korea or Kazakhstan and start naturalizing hockey players?

 I don’t think it’s necessary. I talked about this topic. The only thing is that there are foreigners who settled in Spain, have been playing here for a long time, and do not plan to leave, why not give them a chance to prove themselves on the national team. You can find people with Spanish roots in North America, but they will play in the third division, not at the top level. There is no sense in this, since the federation itself does not set high goals, because our league is semi-professional. If this is done in a comprehensive manner, as it is done in South Korea, where the level of hockey has been raised, or in China, where money has also been invested, then it makes sense.

Previously, Barcelona was invited to international tournaments. How are things now?

There have been no invitations lately. We had a chance to go to Continental Cup in Iceland, as we won the regular season. However, due to the coronavirus, this could not be done.

Does participation in the Continental Cup help develop Spanish ice hockey?

First of all, winning the Spanish Championship is an incentive for local players. A professional hockey player has his own incentives, including his salary. For our players, this translates into trips to the Continental Cup. The guys strive for this and this is a good  in terms of development.

Puigcerda celebrated a playoff victory near the sea. How is the championship celebrated in Spain and are the players getting any prize money?

They won just in San Sebastian, left the ice rink and went with the cup to the beach. They are great guys. When Barcelona last won the championship we were invited to the Camp Nou, we sat in the box and went out onto the field with the cup. It was interesting.

Is there any interest from the audience to the games of the championship and national teams?

The games of the local championship are broadcast, they are shown on TV. Definitely, The final part of the playoffs was also broadcast. The spectators go to the decisive games, I think, like everywhere else. And when the national team plays, and often there are tournaments held in Spain, the stands are filled up at these games.

Last season, Serbia won in all age categories.

The same thing happened with Spain in 2017. It was a real triumph then. The adults, U20, U18, even the girls won back then, but that didn’t change anything. In any case, such successes of the national teams cannot but rejoice.