Tardif meets President of Bulgaria
by Ivan Tchechankov|31 JAN 2023
IIHF President Luc Tardif (middle) in Sofia with President of Bulgaria Rumen Radev (right) and Minister of Youth and Sports Vesela Lecheva (left).
photo: Kostadin Andonov
IIHF President Luc Tardif visited Sofia last weekend and met with the President of Bulgaria, Rumen Radev, and the Minister of Youth and Sports, Vessela Letcheva. They talked about the development of ice hockey in the country and strategies for building new ice rinks. Luc Tardif had a busy schedule in Sofia, where at the moment the 2023 Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championships Division II, Group B takes place.

Tardif was invited by the Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation (BIHF), which celebrates the 70-year anniversary of the first national championship. He was a guest of honour for the special photo exhibition dedicated to the anniversary. The old pictures brought many ice hockey veterans’ memories back to the performances on the ice and playing outdoor games. He visited the IIHF tournament and gave player awards, and next morning, on Saturday, there was a “Bulgarian Winter Classic”, an outdoor game for kids in the U12 age group. Luc Tardif and Vessela Letcheva gave hockey equipment as a gift to the youth hockey players and participated in the ceremonial puck drop before the game.

“I’m not surprised that ice hockey is a passion here in Bulgaria. The will to get better is here. There is a long history and we are here for that celebration. The national federation had done huge work for the development and the growth of the game, of the coaches. In the last 20 seasons, the federation has organized World Championships in different categories almost every year. That’s why I wanted to be here by their side, to meet the President of the Republic, the Sports Minister, to encourage them,” Tardif said. “It’s important that the President of the IIHF is here. The last time was maybe 20, 25 years ago. That’s my job – to be here, try to help, talk with them, explain what we like to do, what are the needs here. The IIHF will be by their side, because they are doing a good job.”

The first official Bulgarian national ice hockey championship was held in March 1952 on the frozen lake under Mount Musala. Five teams from the capital of Sofia participated. In the final, Cherveno Zname defeated Udarnik 1-0. The next championship was held in the ski resort Borovets, and the third at the Velodrome in Sofia. In 1957, the championship was scheduled in Borovets, but was cancelled due to the warm weather. This is the only case of a Bulgarian championship not being held. From 1961, the games started being held at the Druzhba Stadium. In place of this emblematic stadium there is now a temporary ice rink for recreational skating and this was the place for the “Bulgarian Winter Classic”.
IIHF President Luc Tardif (right) at the 70-year anniversary exhibition with Tony Batchvarov of the Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation.
photo: Bonchuk Andonov
“Here you have really good tools. We will work with our Facilities Committee, the Chairperson Viesturs Koziols is here as Tournament Chairman, and will come back with how this can be covered with a roof. That’s why it was important to meet the public authorities. To prove to them that we stand behind them; explain that the development of ice hockey cannot be possible if there is no infrastructure; try to push the idea that there is a need of more ice rinks for training and development of young kids, not one big arena with stands for 10,000 seats,” said Tardif. “We try to offer the President of Bulgaria and the Sport Minister more professional help from IIHF. We’ve got the knowledge and we know how to assist them. There is a new generation of ice rinks, where the energy costs are less and we can do sustainable work.”

“An affordable way must be found to build at least a few rinks in the next few years. There are really so many kids who want to get to know and practise this sport, but they don’t have that opportunity,” said the Minister of Youth and Sports, Vessela Letcheva, during the outdoor game.

“Sports are the foundation on which the future of the nation is built. Countries must develop not only technological and industrial capabilities, but also physically prepare their citizens for the challenges of this future,” the President of Bulgaria, Rumen Radev, was quoted on the official site of the institution.

50 years ago, the Bulgarian men’s national team made its debut in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship program. In the first game on 8 March 1963 in Stockholm, Bulgaria tied the Netherlands 3-3 and two days later beat Belgium 7-3. After three narrow defeats to Denmark, Austria and Hungary, the "Lions" were ranked fourth in the C-Pool. Three times Bulgaria won the group it participated in – 1998, 2014 and in 2019, when it hosted the competition in the Division III.

The most prestigious moment in the history of Bulgarian ice hockey was the participation in the Winter Olympics in Innsbruck in 1976. Bulgaria was in the company of 11 other teams, including the superpowers Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia, USA, Finland and West Germany. After losing to Czechoslovakia, 14-1, Bulgaria fell into Group B and lost to Austria, Switzerland, Yugoslavia, Romania and Japan.

“The job of the IIHF is to develop ice hockey all over the world, not only to think about the top division. We created a Development Department,  to focus outside of the World Championships on true development, how to teach the kids, to give tools to the coaches. We hired Kalle Valiaho from Finland, and Petr Briza is the Senior Vice-President in charge with development,” Tardif said about the recent initiatives.

“We work on that – how to get the better start for the kids when they go on the ice, how to have better coaching. This is a new investment for the IIHF and I really believe that will help the growth of the game worldwide. We are staging seminars for coaches, for referees, for ice making and maintenance. We prefer to work in regions, for example here in the Balkans or in the Benelux countries. We have flying coaches – to come and share their experience, bring all the people together and talk about new ways to coach, the skills, the technologies. And there is something that Covid taught us – to use Zoom calls, webinars, and we have built a studio in the IIHF Office and we are doing a lot for the development of coaches. It can be a session for physical preparation or one for the medical side, the skills, and that way we can connect with the entire world through that studio. That’s a new way to work, it’s easy to organize. We try to teach our member national associations to work a little bit more professionally, for example if you want to build ice rinks – you need a professional approach, that’s why they need help from the IIHF. And when you have such an approach, you can convince the authorities to invest in infrastructure.”