Hockey in Mexico? Growing the sport in a rare location

When people think of “hockey countries,” Canada jumps to the forefront followed by cold weather nations in Europe (and, for some, the U.S. too). One of the last places people think about is Mexico. In fact, many might be surprised that there are a solid amount of ice hockey rinks in the country, but NHL.com shares an interesting article on the state of its game south of the U.S. border.

When most people think of sports in Mexico, the first images that come to mind are baseball and soccer. Although the nation has 18 ice rinks and 2,200 registered players, including 1,800 at the junior level — respectable participation for a non-traditional hockey country — few people outside its small hockey community even know the sport exists in the country. However, Mexico has been part of the world hockey community for a quarter-century, gaining membership in International Ice Hockey Federation in 1985. The country made its international tournament debut at the 2000 Group D (now Division III) World Championships.

Mexico currently plays at the Division II level and is No. 38 in the world, according to the most recent IIHF international rankings. That is up nine spots from its ranking five years ago. The Mexican hockey community has no pretensions of becoming a Division I-caliber country anytime soon. Instead, the goal is to build participation by providing more people with access to the game.

The challenges facing Mexican are fairly obvious and, in some ways, not especially foreign to the obstacles the sports deals with in non-traditional areas in America. With prohibitive costs for ice time (rink charges range between $75 and $150 for a month in Mexico, according to Brian Meltzer) and equipment, the sport is played exclusively by those who can afford it – and those who seek it out.

Ultimately, the program will need to take baby steps in order to grow into a more formidable hockey nation. The story finishes with discussion of hockey in Mexico following the apparently impressive foot steps of Spain.

Moving forward, the key to building hockey in Mexico will be to expand the existing infrastructure of its program. The natural inclination is to wonder if Mexico can follow a similar model to the one Spain has used to win the recent Division II tournament in Mexico City and earn a promotion to the Division I level next season. Earlier this year, Spanish IIHF Council member Frank Gonzalez said there can’t be a direct parallel, but there are some common themes that Mexico and other non-traditional hockey countries can glean from one another.

“Each country is so unique in their way of life, traditions and their day-to-day activities. Even though it might sound that Spain and Mexico are very alike because of the language and our history, we are completely different from each other; our ministries of sport work completely different, the funding is different, our targets in the long and short run are different. But what makes us so similar is that we are starting from zero when it comes to the infrastructure of our federations. Although we in Spain have the base, the employees, volunteers and technical staff to start the process,” Gonzalez said.

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    NHL on NBCSN: Banged-up Lightning continue push for playoff spot against ‘Hawks

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    NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Chicago Blackhawks at 7:30 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

    Despite the crazy amount of injuries that the Lightning have suffered (Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Ryan Callahan, Cedric Paquette and Jason Garrison are all out), they find themselves within striking distance of a post-season berth.

    Coming into tonight’s tilt against the ‘Hawks, the Bolts are three points behind Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the East. The Lightning have a game in hand on the Bruins, but Boston has five more regulation/overtime wins.

    After dropping a 5-3 decision to Arizona on home ice last Tuesday, they rebounded by beating the B’s and Wings on the road on Thursday and Friday.

    One of the big reasons why the Lightning have been able to stay in the race, is because of  the way Nikita Kucherov has played this season.

    On Friday, with the Bolts trailing the Wings 1-0 in the third period, Kucherov helped set up Ondrej Palat‘s game-tying goal before adding the OT winner later on.

    The 23-year-old is up to 38 goals and 40 assists in 67 games. He’s accumulated 29 of those points in his last 16 games and he’s put together four multi-point efforts in a row.

    If the Bolts make it to the playoffs, is Kucherov the MVP?

    Don’t expect the Blackhawks to be in a particularly good mood coming into this game. Not only did they drop Saturday night’s game in Florida, but they were absolutely annihilated, 7-0.

    “There’s no reason we should be entirely satisfied at this point,” captain Jonathan Toews said after the loss, per the Chicago Tribune. “There’s always room to grow.

    “We can’t expect it’s going to be easy hockey (the) last seven games. If we continue to play like that and think we’re going to turn it on come playoff time, we’ve got another thing coming.”

    The Blackhawks had a bit of a rough week, as they lost 5-4 in OT to the Canucks on Tuesday before narrowly beating the Stars 3-2 in a shootout on Thursday. But overall, they’ve been on a pretty good run. In their last eight contests, they’ve gone 6-1-1, which is far from poor.

    PHT Morning Skate: Is it time for the Bruins to move on from Tuukka Rask?

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    Tuukka Rask has shown that he can be one of the top goalies in the NHL, but CSN New England’s Joe Haggerty thinks that his inability to deliver in big games is becoming a serious problem. Haggerty even suggests that the Bruins should consider shipping him out of town this summer. It’s an interesting thought. (CSN New England)

    –Nolan Patrick is expected to go first overall in next June’s entry draft, but his draft year has been anything but ordinary. He missed the first 34 games of the season with an undisclosed injury, which must be pretty frustrating. But Patrick has gone through a similar situation before. When he was a young teenager, Patrick broke his collarbone twice. He was able to shake the injuries off and turn himself into a top prospect. (Sportsnet)

    –Take a look at the top seven plays of the week in and around the NHL. If you’re fed up of seeing Sidney Crosby score ridiculous goals, do not watch this video. (NBC Sports)

    –The Flyers got six goals from six different players in their win over the Penguins last night. You can check out the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page. Philly is now six points back of Boston for the final Wild Card spot in the East.

    –Sabres forward Brian Gionta will be playing in his 1000th NHL game tonight. As you’d imagine, the 5-foot-7 forward didn’t have an easy path to the big show, but he was still able to carve out a great career for himself. “To be out there and part of his 1,000th game, it’s a proud moment for me,” teammate Josh Gorges said. “I know it’s a proud moment for him. We’ve talked about it before, and it’s an amazing accomplishment. … We’re all looking forward to it.” (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

    –Did you really think that changing the goalies’ pants was going to result in more goals scored? Well, let’s just say it hasn’t worked out that way. Before the change, teams were scoring 2.73 goals-per-game. Since the change, that number is slightly down at 2.70. (The Score)

    –Jets super fan Kiera Neal was diagnosed with cancer at the age of one, but Neal, now 10, is doing well and is cancer free. Her wish was to meet the Winnipeg Jets and her favorite player Dustin Byfuglien, and the people at Hometown Hockey made it happen:

    Ducks cement Pacific lead as Getzlaf continues his mammoth March

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    By the end of Sunday night, the Anaheim Ducks removed all doubt: they’re on top of the Pacific Division.

    Now, it’s not the sort of substantial lead that the sliding San Jose Sharks squandered; Anaheim merely leads the Sharks and Edmonton Oilers by two standings points after beating the New York Rangers 6-3.

    With everyone at 75 games played, it’s kind of nice to enjoy the clarity that comes with a clear lead (though the Sharks and Oilers will disagree):

    Pacific top four (all teams with 75 games played)

    1. Ducks – 93 points (38 ROW, 41 W)
    2. Sharks – 91 poitns (40 ROW, 42 W)
    3. Oilers – 91 points (37 ROW, 41 W)

    Flames – 88 points (38 ROW, 42 W)

    The Ducks are now on a four-game winning streak and managed an 8-1-1 mark in their last 10 contests.

    With all due respect to Patrick Eaves‘ two goals, it’s Ryan Getzlaf who’s really playing outstanding hockey. He generated four assists in this one, giving him eight helpers in his past four games. He now has a whopping 20 points in March.

    A lot going on – fight included – between Corey Perry, Brendan Smith (Video)

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    If there’s one thing that’s undeniable from the clip going on, it’s that Corey Perry and Brendan Smith squeezed a lot of activity (carnage?) into a single shift.

    Early on in Sunday’s New York Rangers – Anaheim Ducks game, both player delivered hits that were at least borderline dangerous. After that, they traded punches in a pretty solid fight (especially since they seemed a little tired because, again, this was a fairly elaborate sequence).

    It’s way too messy a sequence to call neat, but there is something efficient about trading hits and then getting into a fight. That’s a mini-hockey feud in short order.

    If you want a pretty moment to counteract all that, check out the great puck movement on this 3-on-1 goal for the Rangers: