MEXICO CITY – Mexico hasn’t resounded throughout the world of hockey that much so far, but maybe this could change with the country’s new semi-professional Mexican Elite League (LME).
Hockey isn’t an entirely new invention south of California. The sport has been played there since the ‘60s and Mexico became an IIHF member in 1985. The first national championship was held in 1988-1989 and the national team started competing in 2000.
Since then Mexico climbed up to 32nd place in the IIHF World Ranking that includes 49 teams. And when the country hosts an event in one of its 18 indoor rinks, it is able to attract decent crowds. Like last year, when up to 3,000 fans showed up at the Lomas Verdes Rink when the Mexican national team competed in the 2010 IIHF World Championship Division II Group A.
What is entirely new, however, is that it now has a semi-professional league.
Although it’s still time for sombreros in the hot summer sun, it’s just a few weeks left until the league opens on October 2.
The LME starts up with four teams, which are all named in traditional Mexican fashion: Aztec Eagle Warriors, Mayan Astronomers, Teotihuacan Priest and Zapotec Totems.
The kick-off was last Sunday when the league held it first player draft with 300 people in attendance. Each team was allowed to select two goalkeepers and 17 skaters for the inaugural season.
Andres de la Garma was picked first by Zapotec, followed by Alfonso de Alba (Aztec). They make up the goalie tandem of the Mexican national team. Adrian Cervantes (Mayan) and the national team captain Fernando Ugarte (Teotihuacan) were selected next to complete Mexico’s first quartet of first-round draft picks.
The league hopes to add one or two expansion teams each year and it will also be open to foreign players in its second year when American and Canadian players are expected to join the league.
“We had all Mexican media at our draft where I also took the opportunity to sign a contract with Mexican Television to broadcast all games live,” said Joaquin de la Garma, the President of the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation, who is also the head coach of the national team.
All games will be played at 20:00 in two venues in Mexico City.
De la Garma hopes that the new league will bring Mexico to the next level in the world of hockey.
“We have the support from the Minister of Sport,” he said. “We are very proud of our league and many people are working on this important project.”
Mayan Astronomers vs. Zapotec Totems and Aztec Eagle Warriors vs. Teotihuacan Priest will be the games when the league opens on October 2. After the regular season, the first LME champion will be determined with a best-of-three final series in March 2011.