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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    Jaden Schwartz’s hat trick leads Blues over Blackhawks

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    Jaden Schwartz‘s third career hat trick helped power the St. Louis Blues over the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 in a Central Division clash Wednesday night at Scottrade Center.

    Schwartz’s eventful evening began with a goal 4:46 into the first period. It was nearly ended minutes later after a scary crash into the end boards following a scoring chance.

    After missing some time, Schwartz returned in the second period and doubled the Blues’ lead with his fourth of a season, thanks to a great outlet pass from Allen.

    As the Blues built up a 4-0 lead, the Blackhawks spoiled Allen’s shutout bid with a pair of late power play goals 80 seconds apart. The furious rally was stopped, however, and Schwartz capped off his hat trick with an empty netter to put the game out of reach.

    St. Louis dominated the first two periods, outshooting the Blackhawks 26-8 as they built up their 2-0 lead. The Blackhawks’ power play failed them early in the game, missing out on five chances to capitalize with the extra man through 40 minutes.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

    WATCH LIVE: Canadiens at Kings

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    The Montreal Canadiens play their second game of a three-game west coast trip Wednesday night against the Los Angeles Kings.

    It hasn’t been the best start for the Habs, who sit tied for last in the Eastern Conference with a 1-4-1 record. They’re winless since an opening night win over the Buffalo Sabres. On the other side of things, the Kings are the only NHL team that has yet to lose in regulation. Their 4-0-1 start puts them a point behind the Vegas Golden Knights, and their game in-hand gives them the opportunity to leap into first place in the Pacific Division with a victory.

    You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (10:30 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Leafs’ Marleau becomes 18th NHL player to reach 1,500-game milestone

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    Patrick Marleau’s three-year contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs will end two months before his 41st birthday, a summer when many believe his NHL career will come to an end.

    But as he celebrated game No. 1,500 Wednesday night against the Detroit Red Wings, the veteran forward was talking about reaching another kind of milestone.

    “I’m going to keep going as long as I can,” he said Wednesday morning via Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston. “I don’t know if my wife’s ready to have me at home full-time yet. If I feel good and still think I can contribute then I’ll keep it going.”

    Marleau is the 18th player in NHL history to reach the 1,500 game mark. Should he stay healthy and play the entire 82-game slate or close to that, he’ll enter the 2018-19 season 11th all-time in that category. Gordie Howe holds the record with 1,767 games played.

    Health has helped the 38-year-old Marleau reach the mark in his 20th NHL season. He hasn’t missed a regular game since the 2008-09 season and hasn’t played fewer than 74 games in a full season in his entire career.

    Marleau has gone from being the youngest player in the league to the sixth-oldest in the span of 20 years and considering his history of good health, better fitness regiments of players and treatment by training staffs, challenging Howe may not be a crazy idea.

    Of course, that is unless Jaromir Jagr sticks around. If that happens then Marleau would likely have to settle for No. 2.

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    WATCH LIVE: Blackhawks at Blues

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    This week’s edition of NBCSN’s Rivalry Night will feature a central division clash between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.

    It’s still early days, but the two sides are battling atop the Central, with the Blackhawks powered by great starts from a number of players including Brandon Saad and Ryan Hartman. The Blues, meanwhile, are looking to halt a two-game skid after winning their first four games of the season. The game also features the return of NHL on NBC analyst Ed Olczyk to the booth.

    You can check out tonight’s game on NBCSN (8 p.m. ET) or online via the live stream.

    CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

    Here are some links to check out for tonight’s game:

    Blues get Alexander Steen back against Blackhawks

    Return to the booth is Eddie Olczyk’s ‘best medicine’

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    Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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