Hands up if you knew Bosnia and Herzegovina had a hockey team.

For the four of you, congratulations. You have gotten to the underground world of the sport. I’ve always been a huge advocate of the development of international hockey, so inspiring tales of teams coming from nothing to compete at the world stage will always make me happy. I’ve been personally following the Bosnian hockey tale for a few years now, as there always seems to be a bit of news trickling out of the country.

And finally, we’re going to be able to see them compete at a major tournament.

It wasn’t until recently that Bosnia’s hockey team took part in it’s current form. Starting in 1980, HC Bosna, the only team from the area at the time, took part in the Yugoslavian hockey league to little success. Hockey in Bosnia hit a real low in 1993 when their home arena, the Zetra Olympic Hall, was destroyed due to a war.

Fortunately, the incident only proved to be the start of a new hockey nation. Later that year, the BiH Ice Hockey Federation was formed in hopes of building up a singular identity for hockey in the country. There was little action in the country for many years until the Zetra was rebuilt in 1998, meaning that Bosna could return to action.

But against who? The Yugoslavian league was no more. Hockey wasn’t exactly a booming sport in the nation, and with no games for many years, it wasn’t a sport many people even knew existed. It would take until the 2002–03 season for the new Bosnian Hockey League to finally be formed, starting off it’s inaugural season with four teams, HK Bosna, HK Ilidža 2010, HK Jahorina, and HK Šampion. The opening season didn’t go as planned, unfortunately, with the league having to go on indefinite hiatus two teams were forced to fold.

In 2009, the league found some new life once again. With the rebirth of the BHL, later changed to the BHHL, two new teams, HK Stari Grad and HK Alfa, took over for HK Jahorina and HK Šampion. The league has continued to be a four team league ever since, with Bosna eventually going belly up, only to be replaced by the U20 Blue Bulls junior development team.

During this time, the national team slowly came to fruition. After years of development and growth in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, the national program participated in their first ever tournament back in 2008, six years after becoming a member of the IIHF. While only participating in two games at the Division III World Championship, the team struggled right out of the gate as expected. In their first game of the event against Greece, a team that doesn’t have a sufficient IIHF-approved arena to participate in any event this year, Bosnia fell 10-1 in a poor first national team game.

Their second game, however, proved to be much more interesting, but not until the tournament had already concluded. Armenia came into the qualification tournament as the favourites to sweep their competition and move on to the main Division III event. The score was very one-sided at the final buzzer, with Armenia taking the easy 18-1 victory once it was all said and done. HOWEVER, that’s where the fun stopped. After further investigation, Bosnia was handed the 5-0 forfeited victory as it was found out that Armenia had been using illegal players and would be handed a suspension as a result. Armenia is still currently sitting out any hockey competition while they try to put together a legit team for once.

Bosnia’s national team program would then go on a hiatus for a few more years. Then in 2014, the hockey world once again welcomed back on the ice with a two game exhibition tournament against Turkey, a team already participating in the Division III World Championships. Hosted in Sarajevo, the tournament marked the first time since February 17th, 2008 that the Bosnian’s had taken to the ice for an official event.

The first game ended with yet another disappointing result, with Turkey taking the eventual 7-2 match victory. Game two, however, finally gave Bosnia their first reason to smile. The team got revenge on their Turkish opponents, taking home the 6-4 victory, giving Bosnia their first official victory in an international event.

After proving they were able to compete at the international level, as well as having enough players and a good enough facility to meet IIHF standards, Bosnia was given permission to participate at 2015 Division III World Championships in Turkey. The lowest group at the World’s, Turkey, North Korea, Luxembourg, Hong Kong, United Arab Emirates, Georgia and Bosnia will all battle for the chance to earn promotion. Bosnia’s hopes aren’t going to be high for this year, because if Georgia’s 22-1 loss to North Korea last year was any type of indication, it’s going to be a rough ride for the newcomers. Regardless, it’s absolutely fantastic to see a team begin their international journey and hopefully they’ll have enough funds to be an improving competitor for a very long time.

Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL.

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