BARCELONA – At the Mediterranean Sea, Olympic dreams are being lived threefold this weekend. Spain’s women’s team upset Croatia 2-1 while battling for its ticket to Sochi, Barcelona hopes to host the 2022 Olympics, and for 60 girls the dreams of a hockey career may have started today.
The centre of all these dreams is at the Pista de Gel arena, located behind the legendary Camp Nou football stadium in the Catalan capital.
The Women’s Olympic Preliminary Qualification Group G opened there on Friday with Denmark defeating Hungary 4-3 and host nation Spain edging Croatia, 2-1, thanks to a pair of first-period goals from Ana Ucedo and Alicia Gonzalez.
“The atmosphere was very good. We had many people. The rink was full for the Croatia-Spain game,” said Frank Gonzalez, member of the IIHF Council and Vice President of the Spanish Ice Sports Federation. “It was an exciting 2-1 game and the Denmark-Hungary game was also very good.”
“We had all kinds of people attending from the Generalitat (Catalonia’s government) to the city hall to sponsors like Tissot,” he added. “Everybody was quite content and for many Spaniards the level of women’s hockey was surprising.”
Spain was most eager to apply as a host of this tournament. While making it to Sochi 2014 might be quite a big dream – Spain would have to win this tournament and two more tournaments at a higher level of play – Barcelona has Olympic plans on its own, too.
The 1992 Summer Olympics had a big and positive legacy in shaping the city – arguably more than any other Olympic Games – and Barcelona hopes to become the first host that will have hosted both the Summer and Winter Olympics with a possible bid for 2022.
“The events are very important because Barcelona wants to be a candidate for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games,” Gonzalez said. “That’s why we had many high officials here to support the event. We also had today some stories in newspapers.”
For instance, El Periódico had a full page with the header “mujeres de hielo”, the “ice women”.
And the 2-1 win over Croatia was best advertisement for the Spanish women, who came in as the lowest-seeded team in the four-team tournament.
“I’m not really surprised about the win. Even though we started to play in the Women’s World Championship just two years ago, we were only beaten by Poland,” Gonzalez said.
“We knew our level of play and Croatia has come down to our group of the Women’s World Championship that will be played in Puigcerdŕ. The game between our teams was pretty even and it will be an interesting one also in April.”
Also for Slovenian IIHF Life Member Ernest Aljancic, who represents the IIHF in Barcelona as the Chairman of the Tournament Directorate, the win didn’t come as a surprise.
“It has been a perfectly organized tournament so far,” Aljancic said. “I have been working as a tournament chairman for five, six years and Spanish ice hockey, in the women’s but also men’s and junior categories, has made big progress in recent years.”
The Slovene also praised the programs for kids that are held at Camp Nou and keep the rink busy when the Olympic hopefuls don’t hit the ice.
On Friday an under-nine tournament was played with ten teams, mixed with girls and boys.
On Saturday girls of all age had the opportunity to try to play ice hockey as part of the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend, an IIHF initiative with more than 300 events in 30 countries.
The dates for the Olympic qualifier were explicitly selected to coincide with this global weekend to promote female hockey.
“We had about 60 new girls who tried to play ice hockey,” Gonzalez said. “They came all from inline. We had participants from little girls to married mothers who tried to play.”
Although Spain’s Olympic hockey aspirations may seem far-fetched, this weekend saw the seeds of progress already begin to show results.
And who knows, it may well be that one of the young ladies who played ice hockey for the first time on Saturday will enter the ice rink again in ten years for the Winter Olympics in Barcelona.
As Spain shows, it never hurts to dream big.
Click here for the World Girls' Ice Hockey Weekend tracker.
The Spanish women’s national team battles in a hard-fought 2-1 win against Croatia. Photo: urbanandsport.com