In the past couple of years, hockey fans have found themselves in much warmer temperatures when the Stanley Cup is awarded in mid-June. Hockey’s more of a winter sport, so it always seems rather strange to have hockey end when most people would rather be swimming.
While the length of the NHL season is a totally different story on its own, many countries don’t have the luxury of playing in the winter landscapes that affects Canada and some of the United States. Costa Rica, for example, doesn’t seem like much of a hockey country, but Bruce Callow, the mastermind behind the sport in the warmer country, doesn’t seem to mind that.
Bruce, born in Calgary, Alberta, was a big hockey fan. Most of Costa Rica, however, was not. The sport was still relatively unknown to most of the locals, with no hockey in the horizon in the early 1990’s. That all changed when, in 1996, Callow proposed a small hockey program at the Real Cariari Shopping Center, with plans to play on a small synthetic ice surface. Synthetic ice isn’t something that’s very common in the world of hockey. Not allowed to be used for official events by the International Ice Hockey Federation, the surface wears out skate blades fairly quicker, and more effort is needed for a simple glide down the ice.
With pucks flying everywhere in the mall’s open food court area, Bruce moved the program to the Castillo Country Club in San Rafael in 1997. It marked the first time that hockey in Costa Rica would be featured on actual ice, with Callow currently helping coach hockey there along with David Vargas from Costa Rica and Serge Salvador from Montreal. It’s been the centre of hockey action in the country ever since.
While not much has come out of Costa Rica hockey-wise, it’s definetly a program on the rise. When the program was started there 19 years ago, there were just eight players that had signed up to play. Today, hockey has proven to grow ever so slightly, with 35 players ranging from the ages of eight to 35 taking part in one of the fastest games on earth.
“The overall skill level of the players is improving a lot,” Callow said about the current state of hockey in Costa Rica. “The new expanded rink at the Castillo is very modern, has great ice and a great place for us to develop hockey.”
Development in the country was slow for many years, but it’s definitely been picking up over the past few years. In 2014, the country was able to see an advancement to their ice surface. Known more for it’s hot temperatures than hockey prowess, the country club, formed in 1973, grew in size to give a much larger playing surface, something that would be welcomed by figure skaters and hockey players alike.
Off the ice, the team, which runs privately and doesn’t ask for assistance from the government, has had some support from third party sources. The NHL Players Association’s Goals and Dreams Fund has been a big help to hockey in Costa Rica, donating equipment to the program on three separate occasions in the past 15 years. Callow does hope that the program will some day be affiliated with the Costa Rican National Olympic Committee and IIHF, the next major steps in helping build a national team for major competitions.
Callow isn’t the only Canadian influence to have an impact with the team. Back in 2011, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the country club, bringing a net along with him. That, along with the help of Canadian coaches coming over to help out every so often, helps create special events that aim to help build the excitement around the sport in the country, something that can only help benefit the future of the game in Costa Rica. Figure skating is still a more popular sport at the country club, but with the extra support, that could end up changing in the near future.
The country only has one traveling team, the Castillo Knights youth team. There was a big push to get younger players involved in the game, and on April 30th, 1996, the first official game in the country’s history took place between two Peewee level teams, the Flames and Mighty Lizards. Callow noted that kids can watch NHL games on cable TV, and he hopes that more coverage of the Costa Rican program through online media, including their own website, will help give people the ability to learn more about the rising program.
So far, there has been no activity with the national team, but that may not be totally far off, especially with the training that the younger demographic have been receiving. Callow and co. were invited to the Pan-American Ice Hockey Games, an event put on by the Mexican Ice Hockey Federation in the past. While they haven’t participated in either of the first two events, the team does still hope to take part in the annual event at some point in the future, but will also focus on building their senior level teams. There were hopes to participate at the participate at the Lac-Beauport Pond Hockey Tournament in Quebec City this past winter, but unfortunately they weren’t able to raise enough funds and will look to travel over in the future.
For some countries, a sustainable ice hockey program is hard to keep running due to a lack of, well, ice. That means some countries turn to inline hockey, a sport with very similar rules that instead uses roller blades on different types of surfaces. Costa Rica has competed at Fédération Internationale Roller Sports (better known as FIRS) Inline events in the past, but haven’t really reached a very competitive level yet. There’s no connection between the ice and inline programs yet, but Callow admitted that it would be a good idea for the future. It’s a connection that has helped out Colombia, Brazil and Argentina compete at the Pan-Am Ice Hockey Games, as access to actual ice isn’t possible year round for those countries.
The future is bright for hockey in Costa Rica. Callow hopes to see various teams from the country participating in events all over the world in the future. Earlier this year, an IndieGoGo campaign to help fund supplies for the Knights saw the $1,500 mark reached in just five days. Continued support for the future stars from the country could help the program succeed in the future, as long term development aid them in their search for a sustainable program. The idea of a Costa Rican Ice hockey Association is something that Bruce has hinted at, which should aid in the process of getting affiliated with the IIHF. With the success that Mexico, Colombia and Brazil have seen in the past few years, there’s reason to believe that Costa Rica could fall in the same category.
“We are enjoying a period of growth and we need to keep building on that,” Callow said. “If we can get funding we will send teams to a couple of tournaments next year.”
For Bruce Callow and the rest of the Costa Rican hockey program, there’s only one way left to go: up.
Anyone interested in playing hockey or figure skating in Costa Rica is encouraged to email Bruce at firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about the Knights, click here.
Photo from Alberto Font/The Tico Times