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 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.

Hitchcock going to more aggressive attack for Blues

Ken Hitchcock
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ST. LOUIS (AP) After three straight first-round playoff exits, the St. Louis Blues have learned to temper expectations.

They have been consistently among the NHL’s best in the regular season and realize it is past time to build something for the long haul. The sting still lingers from the latest failure, against the Minnesota Wild last spring.

“We’re all disappointed, everybody can agree on that,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s never easy to kind of think about your failures, but we grow every time it happens.”

Management isn’t ready to tear it all down yet.

“We play, in my opinion, one of the toughest if not the toughest division in the NHL, and we’ve finished first or second in the last four years,” forward Alexander Steen said. “So we have an extremely powerful team.”

Maybe a change in strategy will be enough: Coach Ken Hitchcock is back with a mandate for a more aggressive, even reckless, style of play from a roster that hasn’t changed appreciably.

“We’re coming hard from the back and we’re coming hard to see how close we can get to the attack,” Hitchcock said. “I think it’s where the game’s at; I think it’s where the game’s going to go.”

The 63-year-old Hitchcock is pushing forward, too, unwilling to dwell on the flameouts. Coach and players agree that would be “wasted energy.”

“My opinion is when you sit and think about the past, you do yourself no good,” Hitchcock said. “If you learn from the past, that’s when you do yourself a whole bunch of good.”

There were only two major roster casualties. Forward Troy Brouwer came from Washington in a trade for fan favorite T.J. Oshie. Defenseman Barret Jackman, the franchise career leader in games, wasn’t re-signed.

“If you were expecting 23 new faces to be on the roster this year, I don’t think that was realistic,” captain David Backes said. “We’re going to miss those guys in the room and on the ice, but there has been some changeover and I think it’s pretty significant.”

Things to watch for with the Blues:

GOALIE SHUFFLE: Just like last year, there’s no true No. 1 with Brian Elliott and Jake Allen sharing duties. The 25-year-old Allen missed a chance to seize the job last spring when he failed to raise his level in the playoffs.

TOP THREAT: Vladimir Tarasenko had a breakout season with 37 goals and was rewarded with an eight-year, $60 million contract. The 23-year-old winger is by far the Blues’ most dangerous scoring option and said he won’t let the money affect his play. “I never worry about it,” Tarasenko said. “If you play good, you play good.”

NEW FACES: Brouwer and center Kyle Brodziak add a physical element that was perhaps lacking a bit last season. Brouwer has three 20-plus goal seasons and Brodziak, acquired from Minnesota, fills a checking role. Veteran forward Scottie Upshall got a one-year, two-way deal after being coming to camp as a tryout. Rookie forward Robby Fabbri, a first-round pick last year, will get an early look. Another promising youngster, forward Ty Rattie, begins the year at Chicago of the AHL.

RECOVERY WARD: Forward Jori Lehteri bounced back quickly from ankle surgery and opens the season without restrictions. Another forward, Patrik Berglund, could miss half of the season following shoulder surgery.

TRACK RECORD: The Blues won the Central Division last season and Hitchcock, fourth on the career list with 708 regular-season wins, has consistently had the team near the top of the standings. “He is our coach, tough cookies if you don’t like it,” Backes said. “From my experience, he puts together one heck of a game plan.”

It looks like Havlat won’t make Panthers

Martin Havlat

As PHT’s mentioned before, the Florida Panthers stand as a fascinating contrast between youth and experience.

Let’s not kid ourselves, though; fresh faces usually beat out gray beards, at least when it comes to teams that are still trying to build toward contender status.

While it’s by no means official, two Panthers beat writers – the Miami Herald’s George Richards and the Florida Sun-Sentinel’s Harvey Fialkov – report that the Panthers are likely to pass on Martin Havlat.

It wasn’t just about the likes of Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad leading the charge. Other young Panthers (maybe most notably Quinton Howden and Connor Brickley) made the team, thus making Havlat less necessary.

One would assume that it might be tough for the 34-year-old to find work, at least if he insists upon only an NHL deal.

Health issues continue to dog him, but he’s no longer one of those guys who tantalizes with talent when he is healthy enough to play.

Havlat also doesn’t really bring much to the table defensively. While other veterans can kill penalties and show a little more verstaility, Havlat’s greatest selling point is scoring.

Could this be it for a solid career that may nonetheless end with a “What if?” or two?