It’s June. The NHL season is getting to the best part of the year, most professional leagues have already crowned their champions and one of the best NHL Entry Drafts in recent years is drawing ever so closer.
But guess what I’m excited for? Of course, the Pan-American Ice Hockey Games.
Formed a few years ago in an attempt to give some smaller hockey nations a chance to play in a competitive setting, the Mexican Hockey Federation hosted the first ever Pan-Am tournament last March, with Canada winning the inaugural event. This year, however, Canada decided to skip out on the event, meaning no matter who wins this year, we’ll see a first time champion at this event. For every team but the men’s team from Mexico, it’ll be a chance for teams to grab their first ever ice hockey championship, something that truly makes the event special.
To find out more about why this is an important tournament, check out this story about Logan Delaney and how important it was for his Canadian team to be involved in last year’s tournament. Once you’re done with that, get to know the teams involved this year, and make sure to check out this tournament instead of watching the NHL Playoffs.
Argentina (A/B): A year after their first ever ice hockey victory, a 5-3 win over Brazil, Argentina will ice two teams in an attempt to help give more players a chance to develop at the international stage. Having previously played in two games back in 2012 to help start up their program, losing 5-1 and 10-1 to Mexico in consecutive days. The team would take some time off before their next match, which saw them lose 11-1 to Colombia in the first event of the 2014 Pan-American Games. It was an unfortunate start to the tournament for Argentina, who weren’t able to bring its strongest roster due to cost issues.
The team’s short history doesn’t include a ton of success just yet, but having two teams in the tournament this year gives them a chance to give more players a shot at developing further. A country known more for their inline experience, Argentina, which currently has 670 registered players at the men level, has just one Olympic-sized rink to choose from, with the arena in Ushuaia, known for being the southernmost city in the world, being their only official choice. The country does host the annual Copa Fin del Mundo tournament (translated in English to the End of the World Cup), so getting experience is possible in Argentina. Last year, the team was only able to bring 12 players, resulting in some poor contests in what should have been a solid outing for the new hockey nation. Playing in the Pan-American games, with two teams nonetheless, is a great chance to help continue the development and strive for their second ever win, with hopes of a medal just in sight.
Brazil: When the first tournament was announced over a year ago, Brazil’s participation was the first team other than Mexico to really be known. For the country, the event was a huge deal, as it gave them a chance to play ice hockey in an organized tournament for the first time.
However, as expected, it didn’t go all too well. The team managed to score just three goals in the three games they played, and every single one of them came in a 5-3 loss to Argentina. Defensemen Daniel Baptista and Joao Henrique Vasconcelos were the only two players to finish in the top 50 in scoring, because, in fact, they were the only two players on the team to actually record any points by the end of the tournament.
This year, the team led by American coach Jens Hinderlie will look to finally secure their first ever ice hockey victory. A top ten team in the FIRS Inline World Championships on many occasions, Brazil will have their work cut out for them this year, especially without Baptista on the squad. Can one of the smallest hockey programs in the world finally break through for their first win in their short history?
Colombia: While fellow newbies Argentina and Brazil were still trying to find their footing last year, Colombia had a very solid tournament, en route to their first ever medal (a bronze) in ice hockey. Featuring arguably the best player in the tournament in 2014 with Daniel Echeverri, who finished with 19 points, Colombia came home with the third place title after a commanding 9-1 victory over Argentina in the bronze medal game to end the tournament.
For a team like Colombia, a 3-2-0 in their first ever hockey tournament proved to be better than expected. The first ever team to win a game at the Pan-American Ice Hockey Games, Colombia’s background mainly comes from inline hockey, similar to Argentina and Brazil. Still not a member of the IIHF just yet, Colombia was fortunate to get some big goals from Echeverri, Sergio Vargas and Michael Mijjar, and the expectation is that they’ll look to battle for their second straight medal. If Juan David Vinueza can hold the guard again in net, they could easily battle for a silver this time around.
Mexico (Men’s/U17): Just like Argentina, Mexico, the only team in the tournament that also competes at some level of the World Championships, will bring two teams to the games. Hosting the event for the second straight year, Mexico will look to build upon their silver medal effort from last year, thanks to Canada sitting it out in 2015.
The only Latin American team that competes in a World Championship event, Mexico has participated in the major IIHF tournament every year since 2000. This past April, Mexico finished in third place in Division IIB, losing out to New Zealand in a tie breaker at the end of the tournament. The team is currently rated 32nd overall in the world, the highest they’ve ever been, and while a victory in Mexico City this year would be good for their program, it wont actually improve their ranking.
A year ago, Carlos Gomez finished first in tournament scoring, posting 21 points en route to Mexico’s second place finish. This year, the team will expect much of the same from it’s top stars, with some players from the World Championship team heading over to the tournament. In addition to the top team, Mexico will also be sending a U17 select team for the first time, hoping to build upon a program that currently sees their U20 team sitting in the bottom division of the World Juniors. Still, both teams have a lot more experience and skill then their competition, but in the end, expect a really good result for the men’s team as they look to be the second ever champions of the Pan-Am Ice Hockey Games.
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