MEXICO CITY – Spain won the World Championship Division II Group A in Mexico City earning the promotion to Division I next year. It’s the greatest achievement in hockey for the country as Spain has never played Division I hockey before.
Calling Spain’s promotion to Division I a miracle would probably be overestimation considering the work done at youth level, but it’s still a big surprise. The team finished in third place last year and had Australia and Belgium as top seeds in its group.
Spain will be ranked 30th in this year’s World Championship program, a place they haven’t reached since 1994 when Barcelona played host to the D-Pool World Championship before Spain was overtaken by new teams following the split-up of several Central and Eastern European countries.
Spain had a great start to the tournament, defeating last year’s Division I nation Australia 6-0 in the opening game before beating Belgium, another medal contender, 6-1, and Bulgaria 10-3.
Host Mexico caused the biggest challenge in the fourth game, but the meeting ended with a 4-2 victory for Spain. The promotion was secured before the last game against Turkey, which ended with another win for Spain, 9-1.
The news also reached Spanish IIHF Council member Frank Gonzalez in Belarus where he is chairman of the directorate of the World U18 Championship.
“It has been the best season in Spanish hockey history with the Division II bronze for the U20 and U18 national teams and now this,” Gonzalez said. “It’s kind of a reward for the efforts of all our staff, players and hockey in general in Spain where our sport is considered a minor one, but it’s quickly growing and with 2015 Winter Universiade in Grenada just around the corner and our team being quite young, I think we will continue this way. If destiny wishes us to stay in Division I in the future, we will be there!”
Two players were standouts on the Spanish team with Juan Muñoz, the tournament’s best forward and scoring leader with 16 points (10+6) and goalkeeper Ander Alcaine, who had a tournament-best 95.59 save percentage in his four games.
“Now we have to work hard and prepare for the new season,” Gonzalez said about the new challenge.
Spain had a quite young team with 15 players aged 25 or younger. The players came from six different Spanish clubs and two players joined from abroad. 19-year-old forward Alejandro Pedraz plays for the juniors of Finnish SM-liiga team KalPa Kuopio while defenceman Dany Parra plays for plays for French minor league team Besançon.
Australia took the silver after defeating Belgium, 5-2, on Saturday, the Belgians received the bronze medals.
The Mexicans had only one win when they beat Turkey 9-2, and the event ended in fifth place after Bulgaria, but before the relegated Turks.
On the positive side, the organizer had a full house with good atmosphere and up to 3,000 fans a few times at the Lomas Verdes rink in Mexico City. An encouraging number that might help develop hockey in Mexico.
Best Goalkeeper: Andres de la Garma (Mexico)
Best Defenceman: Anthony Wilson (Australia)
Best Forward: Juan Muñoz (Spain)
Thousands of fans celebrate with the Mexican players one of the two goals of the host nation against gold-medal winner Spain. Photo: Ulises Gutiérrez Bonilla