Back to the future for Spain
by Henrik Manninen|22 APR 2023
photo: © Evaldas Semiotas
Spanish ice hockey celebrates its centennial season by hosting the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A. While its illustrious past has been highlighted during the tournament, the stage is now also set for a new generation eager to propel Spanish hockey upwards.

With the final round of games remaining, Spain remains in pole position for gold. With an unblemished record of four straight wins, the youthful Spanish team requires one point against Croatia in the closing game of the tournament to finish top of the standings.

With the World Championship staged in the capital city of Madrid for the very first time, 15 out of 22 players representing Spain were born this century. One such is the up-and-coming blueliner Jaime De Bonilla.

"I generally think Spanish hockey is massively underrated and I believe the development is definitely looking better for the future. Our goal is to ascend to Division IB and playing at home is going to make the experience even better and give us more motivation," said De Bonilla.
As part of Spanish hockey celebrating its centennial, the 1977 version of Spain´s national team was out on the ice during the first intermission of their opening game versus Israel. Featured among others are  Bernd Haake (on the far left of the photo), Frank Gonzalez (in the middle, to the left of the person dressed in black), the current President of The Royal Spanish Ice Sports Federation and a former IIHF Council Member.
photo: © Rubén Lago
Having turned 20 last month, De Bonilla spent his formative years in the Madrid area. Now returning back to his roots, he does so with a burgeoning reputation. Four months ago he was named the Best Defender by the Directorate at the U20 World Championship Division IIA in Kaunas, Lithuania. Now he is leading the next crop of Spanish blueliners from junior level to that of the burly world of men´s hockey.

"The recognition I got after the U20 World Championship has been my favorite moment so far in my career. It symbolized that I did a good job in representing my country and it made me feel proud. But now the goal is to develop further in men’s hockey and to win the world championship," he said.

De Bonilla is joined on the men´s national team in Madrid by four players who also skated for the Spanish U20 national team this season: Ismael Escartin, Quim Muratet, Alfred Encinar and Adrian Torralba. While Muratet missed out, the others all represented Spain´s men´s team at the 2022 World Championship Division II Group A in Zagreb, Croatia last spring. Debuting De Bonilla then slotted in next to the more experienced Bruno Baldris on the blueline as Spain finished fourth, with only Israel behind them in the final standings.
photo: © Evaldas Semiotas
"It was an honour to be able to play for the senior national team last year and being 19 made it more special. But I wasn’t happy at all with the performance. I didn’t have the best preparation during the camp which is what I’ll be looking to improve this year. For the team it was a difficult tournament I think as a whole we could have done better," he said.

De Bonilla was born in Murcia, a southeastern Spanish city recently named among the third sunniest cities in Europe. Still, he decided to opt for a career on ice.

"I was born in Murcia but my family moved to Las Rozas de Madrid where I started playing in-line roller hockey at a young age. But my ice hockey career started only after we moved to Vienna, Austria at the age of 10. Austria is more known for ice hockey so I thought I would give it a try and I liked it right away," he said.

After having combined studies with honing his skills out on the ice for the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Austria, De Bonilla was ready for a challenge further afield. Covid restrictions had by then eased as he relocated from Central Europe to Southern Sweden ahead of the 2021/22 season. His first port of call was small-town Nassjo, before venturing further west. De Bonilla has just completed playing his first full season of men´s hockey with Goteborgs IK, the club most famous for where it all once began for the Hockey Hall of Famer Daniel Alfredsson.

"I had options to go to the US but I always saw Sweden being more attractive. I am studying international relations now so that also influenced my decision. Once arriving in Sweden I tried to play men’s hockey as soon as possible and I think it helped me to develop more as a player," said De Bonilla whose main attributes out on the ice are his calmness and composure while trying to keep things simple.

An IIHF member since 10 March 1923, Spain´s first indoor ice rink in Madrid dates back to the 1920s. The Iberian country skated at the 1924 IIHF Ice Hockey European Championship in Milan and the 1926 IIHF Ice Hockey European Championship in Davos. Then Spain hibernated from IIHF competitions before resurfacing at the 1977 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship C-Pool played in Copenhagen and Horsholm, Denmark.

Back in those days, Spain relied heavily on the offensive prowess of Frank Gonzalez, the current President of The Royal Spanish Ice Sports Federation and a former IIHF Council Member. Another eye-catching member of that team was blueliner Carlos Kubala, son of the FC Barcelona footballing great Ladislao Kubala. The Spanish national team was then coached by two Germans, Bernd Haake and Anton Waldmann.

"Those were unbelievable times. We played in the old Copenhagen rink which was also a velodrome. The then Yugoslavia and Italy were strong, and so was Denmark. But we had a good team and we didn´t finish in last place as we beat Great Britain 5-2," said the now 77-year-old Haake who together with the 1977 national team was celebrated out on the ice during the first intermission of Spain´s 8-2 opening day win against Israel.

Haake guiding Spain to 22nd overall in 1977 is still their best result at an IIHF World Championship event. But as recently as 2011 Spain locked horns at World Championship level against the likes of Hungary, Italy and Korea. At the most recent IIHF World Ranking, Spain is found in 32nd place.

De Bonilla who scored in each of Spain´s first two games in Madrid, has since not been able to play due to injury. But he is confident Spain´s youthful enthusiasm and hunger in Luciano Basile´s coached team will shine through in their final game versus Croatia inside the 1,602-capacity Pista de Hielo de Madrid.

"We will skate a lot and fight like crazy for every puck. Overall, we are probably not the most skilled team but definitely the one playing with the most heart and desire to win," said De Bonilla.