MEXICO CITY – Hockey history was written this month when two Latin American national teams faced each other for the first time ever, as a team of Argentine selections travelled to Mexico for an ice hockey tour.
Of the four IIHF members from the area only Mexico has been participating in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program, the first time in 1997. The nation is currently ranked 33rd. Argentina, Brazil and Chile, however, have only appeared in the IIHF InLine Hockey World Championship.
Argentina hopes to change this situation in the future, and assembled ice hockey national teams for the first time ever to tour through Mexico.
The South American country has been an IIHF member since 1998, but was mostly known for inline hockey, with only one small ice rink located in the capital of Buenos Aires.
But in 2010 ice hockey got a boost when an international-size outdoor rink opened in Ushuaia, a city of 63,000 inhabitants located in the Tierra del Fuego Province and commonly regarded as the southernmost city in the world.
During almost two weeks from 7-21 February, a delegation of 39 people travelled from Argentina to Mexico: a men’s national team, a women’s national team and four officials. Most of the players were from Buenos Aires, but there were also some from Mendoza, Tierra del Fuego and Mar del Plata.
“The support we received from the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation is very important for us as we share the same language and it is more affordable to travel to Mexico than to Canada or the U.S.,” said Belén Urbaneja, the General Secretary of the Argentine Ice Hockey and Inline Hockey Association. “The training camp was organized at the highest level. This experience will be essential to develop ice hockey in South America.”
The on-ice practices were led by Joaquín de la Garma (President of the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation), Diego de la Garma (GM and national coach) and Luis Olivares (General Secretary), the off-ice training by Joaquin Oviedo and Alfonso Vargas.
“For many years, and given the situation, our organisation has been developing ice hockey players through inline hockey,” Urbaneja said. “The comments we received from the coaches in Mexico about the good performance and level of our players make us feel proud and we are happy with the work done.”
The Mexican men claimed the bragging rights for Latin America, defeating their Argentine counterparts 5-1 and 10-1 in the games held in Cuautitlán. Argentina had a 3-3 record in the camp, defeating club team Aztecas 7-6 and winning two games (4-2, 3-0) against the Mexican U18 national team while losing the third one 2-0.
But it was not only the international premiere for Argentina, but also a first for women’s hockey in Mexico. After the third tournament of the national women’s championship this month, Mexico’s national women’s team was selected for the first time to play against Argentina.
First the Argentines played each of the four club teams, winning against the Blue Ice Breakers (1-0), Pink Blades (4-0) and White Pearls (5-1), but losing to the Black Widows (3-1).
Then it was time for the first two games between the newly-formed national teams. Argentina won the first game in Cuautitlán 1-0, but Mexico avenged and outplayed Argentina in the second game by a 7-1 score.
“It is the first time our teams could compete in international games,” Urbaneja said. She also added that their biggest goal is to eventually send a team to the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship.
Both the Argentines and Mexicans hope that the camp was only the beginning of a Pan-American project, as contacts were established to hockey representatives from Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Ecuador.
“I’m very pleased with the experiences we exchanged with the Argentine teams,” said Joaquín de la Garma, the President of the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation. “I hope that we can repeat this experience also with other South American countries.”
Soon the Mexican teams will leave the continent after getting some preparation. The men’s national team will play in the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group B in Sofia, Bulgaria, where it will play Belgium, China, Bulgaria, Israel and South Africa, 2-8 April.
Also the U18 national team will play in Sofia at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 World Championship Division III Group A, 12-18 March. The opponents will be Belgium, New Zealand, Chinese Taipei, Bulgaria and South Africa.