BRATISLAVA – For the first time in three years Brazil is playing in an IIHF tournament. Dreaming of past inline hockey glory, the Brazilians want to bring their program to another level and make their dream of playing ice hockey come true.
A multiple-time Division I medallist at the Inline Hockey Worlds, Brazil is doing its steps for the future in inline hockey but miracles haven’t happened for Brazil in Bratislava yet at the 2017 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship. The team lost its games against top teams Australia (7-0), Great Britain (4-2) and Latvia (13-5) in the preliminary round and to Slovenia (14-4) in the quarter-finals. In the placement games it’s now all about survival and direct qualification for the next Worlds.
“It’s a tough year because the teams here are really good. We didn’t find our best game yet. We have a good system but we should execute it better. We will fight for every puck to stay here,” says Luiz Almeida Filho, who comes from Campinas in the Sao Paulo state.
New head coach Skyler Hoar, who played at the IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship for the U.S. in in 2012, knows that Brazil cannot live from its past and wants to work on a new generation of players with the help of former or older players.
“They were telling me the stories of living in the past, having won seven medals. But the game has changed, everybody has got better and we stayed the same. But they’re on the right path,” Hoar explains. “I’m pleased with the effort but we always want more. I’d love to see this group in the medal round consistently in the next couple of years and be a contender. We really have to put together a 48-minute game. We sometimes get tired, go down two goals and from there start to fall apart. We have to stay in the game to have the chance to win it.”
One of the players to help with grassroots hockey is Almeida Filho, another experienced player and former medallist is Jose Guilardi. Like most of the players the play their inline in the national championship in Brazil. They play on concrete floors, with no boards or concrete walls. Coming to the pinnacle event of inline hockey and a facility like the Ondrej Nepela Arena in Bratislava is another world. To get used to a proper floor the team had a one-week camp in Brno, Czech Republic, before coming to Bratislava.
“I’m one of those players who have played tournaments outside of the country, so it’s not that difficult for me to adjust to a proper floor. But the level of the teams in the IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship Division I has improved. Teams are much more competitive. The game is faster. You cannot afford mistakes,” Guilardi said.
“We unfortunately didn’t play our best hockey in the first games but we have a chance to win if we put everything in we have. Our goal here is to survive and to stay. We wanted to give the privilege to other players to play here in two years so they can see how great it is here.”
Most of the players on the Brazilian team are over 30 and have a lot of experience from the past. Developing younger player to national team level and motivate the youth to play the sport is the challenge for the Brazilians.
“The guys are changing, we’re in a transition of hockey and these guys help to build a new generation. We have to change our culture. We’re from Brazil and have a different culture. It’s difficult to change the mentality of the guys but some guys on the team have a great hockey feeling. We try to survive inline hockey in Brazil for future generations. We have a lot of work with the transition,” says Alexandre Capelle, the hockey responsible at the Brazilian Ice Sports Federation (CBDG), who is a former national team player and coach.
Brazil has about 1,500 registered inline hockey players but many more who play recreational inline hockey. Skyler Hoar from California was brought in to make the program more sustainable and rejuvenate the national team.
“I met these guys three years ago when they came to Huntington Beach where I’m from to do camps and clinics and they invited me to Brazil to do a circuit,” he remembers. Little did he know that the “Circuito de Hockey” would be what he calls a seven-city marathon in a car. They drove about 8,000 kilometres in three weeks, went to Curitiba, San Jose, Florianopolis, Belo Horizonte, Sao Paulo, Campinas and Amparo. After that he was signed for the program, goes twice a year to Brazil. At home he helps develop youth hockey with the Anaheim Ducks and coaches teams at the Huntington Beach Militia Hockey Club and coached at the University of Long Beach State.
“Our team is quite old. Many of the guys have played 12 or 15 championships. We need to start replacing that age with some youth,” he said and calls it a good opportunity to step in and help inline hockey since inline hockey helped him so much.
During the past two years he went to Brazil to get to know the players. “To find out who has the character and the skills and try to assemble the best team and hockey culture for this program to start moving in the right direction,” he says.
But what is Brazilian hockey style like?
“Other teams would describe the Brazilian playing style as hard, fast and no quit. Now that they’re getting older I need some more smarts. I’d like them to play more of a stubborn, stingy, defensive style with quick attacks. That’s what we’re based on now. Obviously, I’d like to develop the youth and fly, run four lines, play man-on-man and push the tempo of the game. But we’re a bit older and aren’t able to play that style yet,” says the 30-year-old, who is younger than 12 of the 18 players on his roster.
“When I came they had kind of an old regime that involved a lot of fighting and yelling at refs and bickering. It’s not a hockey country so they don’t understand the written and unwritten rules per se. So now with clearing out the old guard and new guys stepping in we have a clean template to start with six, seven, eight year olds, start teaching kids at the grassroots level how to really love hockey, how to train hockey and bringing them up in a new culture with a positive thinking. It’s refreshing and challenging. That’s the most exciting thing but it also starts with the national team and with players that won’t be part of the program but developing kids. Hopefully within five to ten years we can have a really strong, always competitive program that is vying for a medal.”
Guilardi described inline hockey in Brazil as different than in other countries. Compared to Europe there’s not much of an issue in having rinks but those are all with a concrete surface and many of them smaller. The Amparo native sees a lot of teams with kids in his state of Sao Paulo while in senior hockey 15 teams play in two divisions.
“But it’s not so easy to compete because of the size of the country. But in the last ten years inline hockey has grown a lot. We need some experienced guys but we need more young ones but it’s a bit difficult. The kids today are different. They don’t want to practise as much as before, don’t want to dedicate to a program that much,” says the player, who normally plays for Amparo No Limits in his hometown.
“We have good junior players but many find excuses for not coming to practice. But we really believe in the project. It’s good for hockey in Brazil and we are growing also in states that are far and new. It used to be mostly in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Minas Gerais. Now it’s in all country. We want to develop a good culture of hockey for them and give the kids support.”
Inline hockey has gone as far as to the state of Para at the lower part of the Amazon River with Belem as the biggest city. That’s what he calls the most exotic place for inline hockey in Brazil. “It’s tough to play there. You start sweating just when you put your gear on,” he said. At another inline hockey tournament this year they will use a second squad of players where one player from Belem even made the roster.
Almeida Filho hopes to end the Worlds at a positive note since it may be his last. “Inline hockey is my life for me. I have played since I’m 13,” the 36-year-old says. “It’s exciting and now my goal is to build hockey in Brazil and maybe go into coaching.”
While playing inline hockey, ice hockey is often in the back of the mind for the players although it’s less accessible in the country apart from watching World Championships, Olympics or the NHL on TV.
“Inline is driving ice hockey. The kids all love ice hockey, have their favourite teams and players, know the stats,” Hoar knows.
And indeed, the players quickly have answers to that. Guilardi loves the Anaheim Ducks, remembers the Mighty Ducks movie well and has Teemu Selanne as his favourite player. For Almeida Filho it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins and his favourite player is still on the ice, Jaromir Jagr.
“Inline hockey is very important for ice hockey. We start ice hockey with inline hockey. If there’s no inline hockey, there’s no ice hockey. The games are different but in 2015 we won the bronze medal at the Pan-American Ice Hockey Tournament in Mexico. We have some kids with whom we can play good ice hockey in maybe 10 years but we have to be patient. We just have three small ice rinks but try to find a big rink for ice hockey events. It’s not easy. It depends on politics,” Capelle says.
There’s currently a company building temporary rinks in the Sao Paulo area. Currently there’s one in Brasilia that will later move to the south of the country. But it’s a commercial project intended at public skating and without rink boards. There’s a permanent one in Campos do Jordao in the San Paulo state and one in Rio de Janeiro in a shopping mall. But both are too small to really play the game.
More than ten years ago Capelle started the Sao Paulo Ice Hockey Federation when there was a rink in front of his home. It was 25 on 15 metres. Not big but big enough to organize a 3-on-3 championship.
“I’ve always been looking for a bigger place, talked with mayors of cities about hockey. But the mentality of Brazil is ‘I just want to play football.’ It’s a long process,” Capelle says.
The Pan-American Ice Hockey Tournament that was recently organized by the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation for the fourth consecutive year gives the Brazilians a chance to play the game on ice even if the rink situation makes it difficult to prepare. The team usually goes one week earlier to practise at the full-size rink in Mexico City. Players from the national inline hockey team here tried it as well, although this year it didn’t work out since both events were in June.
“I tried and played in Mexico a couple of years ago with Jose, it was a good experience. It’s fast. It’s good,” Almeida Filho says.
At least one project is taking baby steps. In 2014 a new rink for inline hockey opened in the metropolis of Sao Paulo at the school area Vila Guarani.
“It’s a long process. In 2014 we started it without a roof, but it’s 60 on 30 metres. Now we have a roof. It helps, the players are better than four years ago. But we should now have a real floor. We play there on concrete and here at real rinks, it’s like different hockey. We hope to get a floor from IceCourt,” Capelle says.
The rink is used for inline hockey but also to practise ice hockey – just without ice.
“We pretended to play ice hockey there on concrete, having a red line and blue lines was the beginning. We played inline hockey with ice hockey rules. We are talking with ice rink companies here but we need the money. We need to change the boards. Right now we have cement walls instead of boards, which is a little dangerous. Hopefully we’ll have ice next year. We have plans but it’s not easy. We started with the roof, now we should work on changing rooms, boards and a floor. We’re building it piece by piece. We talk with the city of Amparo too now for a similar project since they have space and support inline hockey a lot.”
Another idea is to use one of the buildings built for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro for hockey.
“Many places in Rio are now closed but it costs a lot of money to rent. We visited the velodrome. It would be great to use one for a big inline hockey or ice hockey tournament but we need more sponsors. It’s difficult, most Brazilian companies sponsor football and maybe volleyball,” he says.
With the lack of development and integration of younger players despite many teams in the country, Brazil has fallen back behind southern rival Argentina both in inline hockey and also at the Pan-American Ice Hockey Tournament. That’s something the Brazilians hope to revert by investing in the future. Capelle was with the team at the Pan-American Ice Hockey Tournament that was also coached by an American.
“This is a great tournament that could need more support like bringing the tournament into the IIHF structure and regulations, like here in the Inline Hockey World Championship. Playing ice hockey is a dream for our players. We had so many teams there from five Latin American countries,” he says.
“The level was good. I saw some young players on different teams I liked. Some went abroad to develop there. I liked to watch especially one young kid from Argentina, number 11 [Owen Haiek, who also plays here in Bratislava for Argentina], he went to North America and did a good job at the tournament, he played really well. I talked with his father who said the kid said when he was 6 that his dream was to play in the NHL. That’s a dream you need even if it’s difficult. It’s a lot of hard work.”
Having the first world-class player coming from hockey in Latin America would be a dream to inspire more kids play hockey. For kids in Latin America, inline hockey is the first step since it’s more accessible and affordable. The Brazilians hope one day they will have the facilities to improve in ice hockey too and to even host the Pan-American Ice Hockey Tournament one day.
For now the short-term plan is survival at the 2017 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship. Only the top-five teams of the Division I tournament will get a spot in the next Worlds in 2019, the others have to go through the regional qualification events in 2018.
The placements games start this afternoon with Argentina vs. Brazil and Hungary vs. New Zealand. The winners will then play for fifth place tomorrow. Slovenia vs. Great Britain and Latvia vs. Australia play in the Division I semi-finals. The Division I winner will be promoted. All these games from the second rink are streamed exclusively on Fanseat
In the top division the semi-finals are USA vs. Czech Republic and Finland vs. Sweden. In the placement games – Canada vs. Germany and Slovakia vs. Croatia – the teams battle against relegation. These games are streamed live on IIHF.com
and Fanseat. Click here for the 2017 IIHF Inline Hockey World Championship page.