One of the largest groups sent by any one nation was Mexico, which had five players, a goalie coach, and a team leader participating in the camp. While casual ice hockey observers may be surprised that Mexican hockey is able to send so many female players to a hockey camp, the women’s program has been steadily growing and looks to reach new heights coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic
One of the country’s key people in charge of developing youth female hockey in the country is Monica Trejo, President of the Mexico Girls’ Ice Hockey League. Women’s ice hockey receives government support in the country, but only at the senior level. The sports ministry supports funding that goes to the senior women’s national team, with the expressed intent to elevate the team to a future Olympic berth.
Part of Trejo’s job is to recruit that potential Olympic generation. Trejo, a certified "hockey mom", assumed the position two years ago and faced a difficult task with recruiting during COVID-19. But amazingly Trejo was able to grow interest in the game during the pandemic and was able to increase the amount of players coming into the U18 system.
“What have I learned? A lot of things,” she said. “I started with 12 under-15 girls, that’s it. I started working with lots of Instagram and Facebook posts, from girl to girl, trying to recruit as much as possible. If I make a complete list right now that have been interested or are involved, I would say about 60 new players recruited in the middle of the pandemic.”
Trejo is now seeking sponsorship within Mexico by private companie, and also started an equipment donation campaing so that new players would have immediate access to gear to play with. If a hockey family’s son or daughter outgrows their equipment, Trejo holds on to it and gives it to a child or parent of a child that has expressed interest in playing the sport.
“I have lots of equipment at my house! (laughs), said Trejo. “I’ll give them everything they need, so they don’t have to worry about it and the parents can later buy the equipment themselves when they’re ready.”
All came from Istanbul following the tournament and are considered among the top U18 players in the country.
“I heard about Vierumaki before, I have three kids, one a boy turning 17 this year, who was interested in participating in the men’s high performance camp which was cancelled due to the pandemic. It was last minute, but I jumped at the chance because that camp offers something for everyone. I need to learn new skills on how to be a team leader, I am here as a team leader but there are also other things to learn about…managing equipment,…working with media…there’s lots to take in.”
Among the girls joining Trejo at the camp are forward Melanie Hernandez. Hernandez first played ice hockey in Mexico when she was 3-years-old. She stopped for a few years and later moved to the U.S and later Canada where she was able to resume play, improve her hockey skills and gain experience to bring back to her native country.
“Coming from Canada, starting playing late I feel for me I am trying to learn and catch up to everybody else. I don’t want to tell coaches and hope they don’t notice, but having these coaches here at the HPC, they take everything step by step and they really focus on you and teach you everything, which is a good refresher. They explain everything in detail and getting to know the girls from other countries is really fun.”
What is it like to play in Mexico? Hernandez returned to Mexico to train for two months last summer with the senior women’s team in the capital Mexico City.
“It was tough coming from Canada to train there with the higher elevation, there is less air so its hard for me sometimes, I thought I was out of shape,” said Hernandez. “It’s hotter there of course so the ice is usually soft, but if you can play there you can play anywhere (laughs).”
She even played with the senior team as a 16-year-old at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A in Jaca, Spain. For Hernandez, she is committed to the Mexican development system, and hopes to contribute to the program once her playing days are over.
“I would like to coach, and go back to Mexico and teach the younger generation. I think the country can go farther, with recruiting there are a lot of people with Mexican citizenship in USA and Canada, so we can reach out to different places, and get the girls playing in Mexico to have opportunities to go to camps like these.”
Domestically, there is a league composed of five female teams that compete in the capital Mexico City. Claudia Tevez and Bertha Gonzalez – who represent the Mexican senior women’s national team, compete in this league – as well as Trejo herself.
The sense of mutual support within the womens’ ice hockey community is strong, as evidenced by Trejo and other’s attempts to integrate the U18 girls into the system and give them the chance to learn from and train with the senior players. This was particularly important during the pandemic which put many ice hockey programs on hold throughout the world.
“When COVID starts, everything shut down in the United States,” said Camryn Heon, who was born in El Paso, Texas, near the USA-Mexico border and was recruited to play for the national team when the Mexican men’s team travelled to Texas to play scrimmage games with the local men’s team.
“I was looking for a place to play and wondering how I could get ice time when everything is shut down. So I moved down to Mexico City for a year and a half, training and getting plenty of ice time with the senior women’s team. During that time they were having tryouts for the Olympic Qualification in Poland, so I ended up making the women’s team at 15.”
“Before then I had no idea that Mexico had a hockey team, the facilities are still growing and the hockey is still building but the platform they have is great.”
“At the time the team captain was 36-years-old, she is now pregnant with a baby, one of our assistant captains is 32, and our goalie is 34.”
“Seeing how those women are so strong, how they are still playing at this age and balancing their family lives and maintaining a good role in the community…Its really inspiring and I told my parents ‘I’m going to be like them’, it doesn’t matter where I am I will always play for Team Mexico, hopefully into my 40s and even 50s (laughs).”
For Trejo, Hernandez, and Heon, there is more to do, but the team is on the right path out of COVID. In all the women’s teams has been able to participate in all IIHF women’s events since the full season resumed, together with the Olympic Qualification and the Women’s High Performance Camp.
“I would love to (come back and coach) when we first heard about this camp, the high performance aspect where each country sends its top players,” said Heon. “I thought that would be such a good experience to have, the to see how everyone moves, the languages, puck control, how they move their bodies, the skills of their goalies, everything."
"Coming back to this campas a coach would be a great experience to come back and learn and to teach them what I’ve learned from now until then.”