The generation game
by Andy Potts|15 DEC 2019
photo: Toni Grases
Spain’s team at the Olympic Qualification tournament in Barcelona is a young one. The average age is 22-and-a-half and only one player, defenceman Juan Antonio Brabo, is over 30.

That partly reflects the realities of life in the emerging hockey nations: as players get older, work and family commitments can take them away from the ice. It’s partly down to head coach Luciano Basile’s determination to get his teams playing a fast-paced, high-intensity game. And it’s also a tribute to the improvements in Spain’s development program, which saw the country win gold in U18 and U20 World Championship play in 2018.

Among the youngsters making the step up is defenceman Bruno Baldris. The 20-year-old was part of that successful U20 team and has also featured in three World Championship campaigns with the seniors. So far in Barcelona he’s contributed 4 (1+3) points in two big wins over Mexico and Chinese Taipei and he’s slotted into the first defensive pairing effectively as the host nation builds towards a Sunday showdown against the Netherlands for a place in the next phase.

This season has been a big one for Baldris. After four seasons working up through the junior ranks in France, he made his Ligue Magnus debut with Angers. There’s a bit of a tradition of Spanish players crossing the Pyrenees to develop their game – national head coach Basile has worked in French hockey for many years – and the youngster believes that playing for Angers is helping him to progress.

“France is a good hockey country,” he said. “They play a harder game, the hockey is better there. For me it was a big thing to go there, to play every day at that level.”

Going abroad meant leaving his native Jaca behind, but there’s still a strong link to home. Dad Miguel is on the coaching staff for team Spain and has always been a big influence on Bruno’s career.

“I started hockey because of my Dad,” Bruno added. “He’s from Canada so he always played hockey. We grew up in Jaca, a small town in the north. Hockey is the only game there, so that’s why I started.”

Miguel, born in Candiac, Quebec, was drafted by the Sabres in 1986 but his North American career peaked at Major Junior level. He moved to Spain in 1990 and played for Jaca and Barcelona as well as three seasons over the border at Angers. As a coach, he handed Bruno has Spanish championship debut back in 2014/15. And, with the Spanish hockey family remaining a tight-knit group, it’s little surprise that the father-and-son partnership is still active today.

“We don’t have too many people in Spanish hockey,” smiled Bruno. “It’s not the first time Dad has been my coach and I’ve played for him.”

Baldris Snr, along with Basile, is looking to drive Spanish hockey forward. Part of that means helping players get experience at a higher level than the national championship. Bruno, too, feels that the national team can only benefit if more players get the chance to move away and explore different hockey cultures.

“In this team we have four players based away somewhere,” he said. “There’s another in France at Strasbourg and Dorian Donath is playing in Sweden. Maybe it’s not so good for the Spanish league but if we want to have good players, maybe we need more people to play away from Spain.

“And if the national team gets stronger, that can encourage more people at home to take up the sport.”