Surrounded by Belgium, France and Germany, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg is one of Europe’s smallest countries. Still, the nation of roughly more than half a million people is one of the oldest members of the International Ice Hockey Federation. This year it celebrates its 100-year anniversary.
One of the most constant figures in Luxembourg ice hockey is Monique Scheier, who was elected into the IIHF Council in 2009 as one of two female members.
Recently she chaired the tournament directorate at the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A in Ventspils, Latvia.
“We didn’t have so many problems and it was a good tournament. That made my work easy,” she says about her work in Latvia. “All teams were at the same level.”
“Of course Canada and the U.S. are at another level in women’s hockey, maybe even Finland and Sweden. But the rest is coming closer. I think all teams improved.”
Scheier has been involved in ice hockey for 40 years already. It all started in the town of Beaufort.
“My husband was playing there at that time and I started as a scorekeeper,” she remembers.
But more than a decade later it didn’t look good with the future for the sport in her country.
“In 1988 there were no junior teams in Luxembourg so I started a team with five kids,” she says. “Now we have 200 youth players.”
Her team was a family affair as the players included her two sons, two nephews and one of their friends. The setup was similar to her normal business life where she’s responsible for the administration in a family-run mechanical workshop.
Since 1992 Scheier has been the General Secretary of the Luxembourgish Ice Hockey Federation. And at the same time she’s President of the strongest of the country’s four amateur clubs, Tornado Luxembourg, which plays in Division 3, the fourth-tier league of France. Two other teams play in a German regional league across the border. And an additional one joins them for the national championship.
On top of that there are youth teams in each age category. A women’s team doesn’t exist. Girls play with boys’ teams, but there haven’t been enough players to form a women’s team yet.
“I’m doing it as a volunteer. It’s a lot of work, but I love to do it,” Scheier says about her work in hockey. “But it’s not so easy in Luxembourg. But we try to get more teams and I think we will meet the IIHF’s minimum standards next year.”
Ice hockey is seen as a random sport in the country. “It’s all about football. And then, basketball, handball, and then hockey,” she says. “So the federation has to make its best out of the possibilities.”
And that’s easier said than done. The four senior teams and the youth teams share three ice rinks with other activities. Two of them are in Kockelscheuer where the bigger one with a capacity for 1,200 fans hosted two World Championships at Division III level. The third one in Beaufort got its roof for this season, ending the open-air hockey era in the north of Luxembourg.
The national team mostly counts on home-grown talent also because 42 per cent of Luxembourg’s inhabitants are foreigners, of which many only stay for a few years. The strict naturalisation regulations in the country, which haven’t foreseen double-citizenships until recently, wouldn’t have made it easy anyway to use players with foreign roots.
“There are young players coming up. And we are working again on our U18 program, but it will take some years to have it a good level,” Scheier says. “It’s our aim to be in the U18 World Championship program in a few years.”
Luxembourg has been playing in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program first time in 1992, then again in 2000 and since 2002 every year. Only two times did Luxembourg play in Division II, losing nine games while having a tie against Israel.
In the junior programs Luxembourg only played once, with its U20 national team in 2003.
This year’s national team will be led by Slovak coach Marian Gallo, who returns behind the bench for the first time since 2009 and after being assistant coach last year. He also coached Tornado Luxembourg this season.
Luxembourg will enter the 2012 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III in Erzurum, Turkey, as fourth-seeded team. Only the tournament winner will be promoted.
“It won’t be easy as we will miss some players,” Scheier says. “We have some teachers on our team and they can’t choose when to take vacation. But we will still have a quite good team and I hope it will manage to go up.”
Most players come from one of the domestic clubs. Only few players leave for abroad, and mostly for study.
But there’s one famous hockey personality with heritage in Luxembourg most readers know well: former NHL player and Team Canada coach Marc Habscheid.
In 2005, a few months after winning silver at the World Championship in Vienna and days before leading Canada at the Spengler Cup in Switzerland, Habscheid visited the country his parents were born in. He met the national team and gave a practice lesson to juniors. Scheier gave him a jersey of the Luxembourg national team with his name on it as a souvenir.
But Scheier knows that to boost hockey, the development needs to be done within its borders.
“I want to improve the junior program in order to have youngsters joining the national team,” she says when asked about her wishes for the future of ice hockey in Luxembourg.