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Hockey, Haki, Hóquei, Qūgùnqiú: Hockey’s development throughout the world

Hockey has developed very effectively in Canada, the United States, Russia and other Northern European countries, but how is the game developing throughout the rest of the world? (Photo Andrew Davis)

Hockey has developed very effectively in Canada, the United States, Russia and other Northern European countries, but how is the game developing throughout the rest of the world? (Photo Andrew Davis)

It comes as no surprise to anyone living in Canada that hockey reigns supreme. Throughout the cooler seasons, arenas all over the country are filled with hockey teams for tournaments and games. Those same arenas can be found with beer league games for adults almost nightly. As soon as temperatures fall below freezing and our soccer fields become skating rinks, children fill the rinks from the minute school ends to the second dinner is ready. Even during the summer months, kids set up pick-up games on dead-end roads so that they won’t be moving the nets for cars too often. Arenas stay open year round, and throughout the summer one can find both young and old hockey players preparing for next year’s seasons. With all due respect to lacrosse, hockey is without question Canada’s game.

But what about the rest of the world? Generally speaking, we know that Russia, the United States, and the Scandinavian countries have also been bitten by the hockey bug. Are there other countries that are catching on to the sport?

I had the opportunity to sit down with Frank Gonzalez, a Council Member for the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) and the President of the Spanish Ice Sports Federations (FEDH). Gonzalez explained that although the IIHF hosts about 32 World Championships every year, it is not the sole purpose of the Federation.

“Our main objective is for ice hockey to develop all over the world. We are the only international federation that puts a lot of money into development. [We focus on] developing all of our countries, as we are a global organization. We have 75 nations as members, and we could have pretty close to 100 very soon.”

It may come as a surprise to some that there are 75 countries around the world that play hockey at any level. Europe has the biggest grouping of hockey-playing countries, but what other countries are playing?

“We have many countries in the Asian continent, and also South America that want to come into the organization, but we do have a criteria to accept members. They can be an associate member or a member with a right to vote. To be able to vote, you have to take part in the world championships, and to participate you have to meet the criteria.”

Gonzalez has been serving as the Spanish delegate to IIHF congresses since 1991, and has been on the IIHF council since 2003. Being part of the Federation for so long, he has an idea of which hockey regions are developing at high speeds.

“I think Asia is number one. Right now, we have many teams in Asia that are preparing to take the step to be able to compete in our Championship program. They are investing a lot of money, and China wants to get the Winter Olympics of 2020 as well, and I think that will be a strong step for Asia, especially China, to prepare for that event. Just like South Korea, who are ready to compete, but they really have to step up and build up their programs.”

As he is representing Spain, Gonzalez knows very well how well hockey is developing in Spain and surrounding European countries.

“On the European side, there are many countries that want to make that step, but cannot move forward because of financial issues. Take Spain, for example. We lack the culture and tradition, but we have many players who are leaving the country to study in Canada, the US, and European countries where hockey is the number one sport. This year we have about 10 players who will come back and join our National team, who are all the age of 20 and 21, so we will have a very young team.”

Pol Gonzalez is one of 10 players studying abroad who will represent Spain at this year's Division 2A World Championship in Iceland (Photo credit Spanish Ice Sports Federation

Pol Gonzalez is one of 10 players studying abroad who will represent Spain at this year’s Division 2A World Championships in Iceland (Photo credit Spanish Ice Sports Federation).

Spain has been bouncing back and forth from Division 2A and 2B while participating in World Championships, and Gonzalez has high hopes for the future of hockey in Spain.

“We started a development program in Spain in 2007. From 2007 to 2014, we have been scaling the world ranking from number 36 to 30, so we have been developing quite nicely. Last year we won Division 2B, and this year we will be competing in Division 2A Championship in Iceland. All of our other teams, including our Women’s team, are in Division 2B.”

In a country where soccer, basketball, European handball and water polo all reign supreme, promoting a different sport is an uphill battle, but Gonzalez feels that it is a challenge worth pursuing.

“I think we’re in the right process, because we have noticed a change over the last five years in players as young as 15. They have better skills, and they are getting faster and stronger. Our main goal is to get to Division 1 in the next two years. I think we need time, and we need the money. We are currently in an economic crisis, but we are still there. I would say a big jump will come in the next five years.”

Gonzalez’s son, Pol, left Barcelona to play hockey in Ontario, and is currently studying at Concordia University while playing on the Concordia Stingers Men’s Varsity hockey team. He will be one of 10 players studying abroad who will return to represent Spain in this year’s Division 2A World Championships. Frank is hoping that in the future, players will be able to continue developing their hockey skills without having to leave Spain.

“The goal is to make it so players don’t have to leave the country to develop. This will happen when we have the facilities, and that our tradition and culture changes a bit. We are still a nation in a warm climate that still cater to the soccer players and basketball players. I think it’s good. Our players get a feel for what hockey really is, especially in countries like Canada, Finland and Sweden.

“The seed is there, we just have to move slowly about it to make sure we don’t lose the teams we already have, as well as the arenas that we have. That’s the problem we have in Spain; they will be changed to a bowling alley.”

Hockey is a game that is still rapidly developing in regions all over the world. The IIHF’s goal is to make sure that countries interested in playing hockey have all the resources and assistance available to promote the game.

“The IIHF is a hockey family, and that includes the NHL, KHL and other organizations. Hockey is now a small world; wherever we go, as far as New Zealand or Malaysia, there is hockey being played that nobody has heard of. Even Mexico and Argentina are playing hockey.”

Although hockey is still developing in other countries, Gonzalez has no doubts about where hockey stands in Canada.

“Hockey is the game of Canada. For everything they do, how they love the game, how their culture is really embedded in their tradition. I think hockey will continue to grow in Canada, and that is the main objective for the IIHF. We are looking for continued grown, and the more youngsters that get into the game, the better it is for our game and for the character of the players.”

NHL Summer Summary

Today is a wonderful day. Training camps are officially OPEN! That means hockey is only a few weeks away, and it couldn’t come any sooner.

With this being a day to celebrate, I thought it would be the perfect time to write up a summary of all the NHL stories from the summer. I don’t want to simply regurgitate what you’ve heard over and over again all summer, so I’m going to do my best to put my own little twist on all the stories. Attempts at humour will be made, but there is not guarantee of success. Enjoy!

Kovalchuk “retires”, but finds a new job in KHL

Well, this was unexpected.

Kovalchuk surprised everyone when he announced that he was retiring from the NHL. What was far less surprising was when it was announced a few days later that he had signed with a team in the KHL. Many Russian players during the lockout made it clear that leaving the NHL for the KHL is never out of the question When the possibility of NHL players participating in the Sochi Olympics was in question the tension between the NHL and their Russian players only grew. Kovalchuk is not the first to leave the NHL to return home, and he definitely won’t be the last.

To be honest, I don’t necessarily blame the guy. I’m thinking about it in this context: I get offered a great job in…China, for argument’s sake. Although I am making good money at a job I enjoy, I am away from home for almost the entire, year, except for vacations. I’ve been working at this job for over a decade, when a similar job becomes available in my home country. I miss home. I want to be with my family in my home country. Although China has been very accommodating, it will never be the country I call home. Even though I have a contract with the business in China, I decide to breach the contract and head home.

The only true issue I have with his decision is the timing of it. With his announcement coming once free agent frenzy had come and gone, the Devils were then left out to dry. They have lost their superstar, with very little chance of replacing hime. If Kovalchuk had announced his intentions earlier, the Devils could have at least made a splash to try and replace him. Now Kovalchuk is gone, and the free agent well has run almost dry. Maybe there were reasons for the timing, I really don’t know. But I don’t blame Kovalchuk for wanting to go home, where his heart is. I don’t agree with how he went about returning home, but I don’t blame him for doing so.

Canucks finally trade a goalie, but mix up names and accidentally trade Schneider

I think Mike Gillis is trying to make a bid to become the most unorthodox General Manager of all time.

Gillis had a rare opportunity that all general managers would love to have: two stellar goaltenders. It’s the type of conundrum teams would love to have, because no matter who you trade, you have a solid number one to take over for good. And somehow, Gillis managed to make the situation a complete nightmare for everyone involved.

After openly stating that the Canucks were “listening to offers” for Roberto Luongo and his massive contract, Gillis was unable to move the expensive netminder. Draft day comes around, and out of almost nowhere Gillis trades Schneider to the Devils for their first-round draft pick. Not only that, Gillis had the audacity to say that his intention was always to develop Schneider into a trade-able asset.

Imagine how awkward things between Gillis and Luongo will be from now on. “Hey Roberto, ol’ buddy ol’ pal. Remember that whole ‘we’re trying to trade you’ thing? Well…you just got PUNK’D! C’mon man, you know you’ll always be my number one guy, right? It’s not that I couldn’t get anyone to take your massive contract or anything. I was just playing mind games with the other GMs. C’mon buddy…”

Luongo has barely spoken to the media since the trade, and to be honest I can understand why. A few members of the hockey media think he’s being a big drama queen. If my team just spent the better part of a year trying to trade and then suddenly turn around and call me their number one man, I’d feel pretty skeptical about the whole thing.

It’s going to be very interesting to see how this whole thing turns out in Vancouver. No matter how long it goes on, there will always be the “what if we kept Schneider” theories. Being from Montreal, I am constantly hearing the comparisons Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak. Some people still think the Canadiens traded the wrong guy, and others think they could have gotten more for Halak. Vancouver fans, expect a few years of those same conversations.

Iginla signs with Boston, redefines the meaning of the word ‘irony’

And so the plot thickens.

This is the only proper to ending to what has been a half-year saga with Iginla. The story could have easily ended when Iginla’s Penguins were swept by the Bruins, the very team he turned his back on, and many fans would have been satisfied with the weird ways of the Hockey Gods. When free agency came around, Iginla decided to shock everyone by signing with the Bruins. That could have been a season finale’s cliff hanger on a TV show.

To be serious for a second, I do think that Iginla will fit in very nicely with the Bruins. These guys are professionals, and I would be shocked if any of the Bruins players felt any animosity towards Iginla. He made a decision, and that’s that. No hard feelings. I’m excited to see Iglina in the Black and Gold. If my math is correct, the Bruins became 12.6% more likeable after Iginla signed with the team. Let’s be honest, no one can hate this guy. He is just too nice.

Horton wants out of spotlight, decides on Columbus, since Delaware doesn’t have a team

I’ll admit, I’ve never been to Delaware. This is more of a tribute to Wayne’s World and their first experiences with the green screen. “Or imagine being magically swept away to….Delaware. … Hi. …. I’m in Delaware…”

I like what Columbus has done in the last few off seasons. They’ve been able to slowly but surely add pieces to their puzzle, and they are becoming a force to be reckoned with. They now have a Vezina-winning goaltender, a few solid defensemen, and some great players in return from the Rick Nash trade. They now add Horton, a proven, gritty goal scorer. Although I don’t think the team will be winning any cups in the next few years, I wouldn’t be surprised if they make the playoffs. Let’s not forget, they’re now in the Eastern Conference. That means they have to battle with teams like Buffalo, Florida and Carolina. They’re odds are definitely turning in their favour, however they still can’t manage to escape the wrath of the Red Wings. Trust me, they are going to be a force to reckon with this year.

Montreal signs epic moustache, man behind it can also fight

George Parros has some of the best facial hair in the business. I honestly believe his mustache may be more popular than his hockey skills! There are theories that Parros is the great-grandson of the “overly manly-man” meme (internet people will understand). If the Canadiens’ goal was to add toughness to their lineup, they succeeded in picking up the ‘Stache. Adding Danny Briere is a step backwards in terms of getting bigger, however Briere is no wuss. He is gritty, he battles in the corners, and he scores the ugly goals. Although the Canadiens are still going to be one of the smaller teams in the league, I don’t think they’re going to be pushed around and bullied like they have been in years past. I believe that last year’s playoff humiliation by the Senators was a big wake up call to the “Habitants”. We’ll see how tough they are on opening night against the Maple Leafs, a team that is quickly becoming a very physical opponent.

ESPN shows 7 seconds of Stanley Cup Parade after covering what Lebron James had for breakfast

He had eggs. They were sunny side up, and they were delicious,

Chicago thanks Bolland for Stanley Cup winning goal with an all expenses paid vacation to Toronto… for a whole season

Although it wasn’t exactly the firesale the Blackhawks were forced to go through after their Stanley Cup win in 2010, this was as close second.

In 2010, the Blackhawks were forced to let go many of the key components in the Stanley Cup victory due to salary cap restraints, and they were not exactly the same team at the beginning of the next season. Only days after scoring the Stanley Cup winning goal, Bolland was traded to the Maple Leafs. I’m sure Bolland is happy to be joining his hometown team, which is in the middle of becoming a semi-decent contender. However, I find this a strange way to show your thanks to a player who had played an important energy role for the team, during both the regular and post season.

Alfredsson leaves Ottawa, signs with Swedish Elite League Detroit Red Wings

It is going to be extremely odd to see Alfredsson in anything but a Senators jersey. Many people think that Alfredsson should have stayed an retired as a Senator, however I don’t think he owes the team anything. He has fulfilled his contractual obligations, and the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement for a new contract. He signed a good deal with the Red Wings, who are quickly becoming the practice squad for the Swedish Olympic Team. Alfie has always been one of the classiest guys in the league, and I don’t think anyone deserves to look down on him for signing with a different team. He gave the Senators 110% while he was there, and that’s all you can ask for from a player, nothing more.

Florida does absolutely nothing, prepares for next year’s first overall draft pick

Last year, Columbus were at the bottom of every hockey joke and every expert’s season predictions. The Florida Panthers are the new Blue Jackets. They did nothing in this year’s off season, besides attend the draft. They’re “big signing” in the off season? Scott Gomez. I’m fairly confident that Florida’s management has accepted that they have to rebuild. I’m just not sure that they know they still have to play all 82 games this season to qualify for the draft.

Vigneault and Tortorella star in special episode of “Trading Places”, but plot twist is they never switch back

I found this story to be particularly amusing. I’ve never seen a literal coach switch, and they might as well have simply written it up as a trade instead of separate hirings and firings. I do think that both coaches are going to excel in their new cities. They’re both proven coaches who know how to string together wins. Torts coached his team to a Stanley Cup Championship, and Vigneault was one win away from winning his own. I think Tortorella is going to give the Canucks the kick in the behind they need, and make sure they become a defense-first, fight for the win kind of team. Although incredibly talented, their superstars were easily pushed off their game in the past. Tortorella is going to make sure this team doesn’t get bossed around, which is what they need.

As for Vigneault, I think he’s just happy to be coaching a team that has a clear number one goalie!