When you think of Brazil and sports, football (or soccer in North America) seems to be the sport that most people think about. That’s very understandable, considering the country currently sits at fifth overall in the FIFA world rankings.
But did you know they actually have a hockey team? In fact, yes, they do have one, and they recently just one their first ever ice hockey gold medal. Originating from their inline program, Brazil’s team was put together for their ever tournament last year, the inaugural Pan-American Ice Hockey Tournament in Mexico. The tournament didn’t go so well for them, finishing dead last after failing to record a single win at any point in the tournament.
Earlier this month, the nation put all that behind them by winning bronze at the 2015 Pan-Am tournament. It was a big moment for the country who have few resources to work with in building a successful national team. The man behind the success of the team is Jens Hinderlie, a passionate hockey fan who had a fantastic opportunity to lead Brazil to their first successful hockey tournament.
I talked to Jens about the experience, one that surely had a positive impact on the future of the organization.
SE) Explain your role with the team and how you got involved in the first place
JH) Great Question. All the credit goes to my beautiful fiancé!! A long story short, I met a woman from Brazil, we fell in love and became engaged to be married in Dec of 2014. I was working in Texas at the time and I made the decision to leave my job around April 12, 2015 to be closer to her. She knew I loved hockey and she contacted the Confederation of Ice Sports in early March. She spoke with the president of the ice sports and also the president of inline hockey, Alexandre Capelle, about me and my passion for the game. She connected us on What’s app and Capelle and I started to talk about all things hockey in Brazil for a few weeks. Capelle has been working with inline hockey for about 15 years in Brazil and, about a week before I moved, he asked me if I wanted to be the Head Coach of the first Brazilian National team. He said I would be able to hand pick the team that I wanted from a list of about 40-50 players during a National Inline Tournament on April 18-20. When I arrived at the National Inline tournament I was able to watch the players and after the three days I had a list of 15 skaters(this was their budget) and two goalies that I wanted to take to Mexico. 2 players had to back out due to work related issues but, we were able to find some very capable replacements for them.
SE) How did Brazil’s participation in the tournament come together in the first place?
JH) Well, last year once the tournament was announced the confederation more or less threw out the idea to the inline players. They asked if anyone wanted to participate and that if they wanted to go they could but, they would all have to pay their own way. So, really it was a group of guys, Capelle included, who wanted to represent their country for this first Panamericano tournament in Mexico.
SE) Since ice hockey is still rather new there, where does the funding and support come from?
JH) Well, the CBDG, Confederation of Brazilian Sports on Ice, is slowly growing. Right now they have a 4 men’s bobsled team that will compete in the 2018 Olympics and possibly a women’s team if they qualify. The CBDG is funded somewhat through government programs but, it really needs sponsors for all of their sports but, right now we are hopefully going to see a larger investment from the CBDG and others in supporting hockey after this successful tournament.
SE) How much interest was there to start an ice team?
JH) There was a lot of interest. Like I said earlier, Alexandre Capelle has been dreaming to do this for years and since the invitation was given by Mexico in 2014 they decided to jump on it. If we had more tournaments to go to we would.
SE) Do you have many players interested in participating, and are they mostly from home or from all over the world?
JH) We had one guy who lives in the United States and that was our goalie Allen Ruane. We brought along another young inline goalie to give him some experience as well. Everyone else lives in Brazil. I heard Robyn Regehr is a Brazilian native, so maybe we can convince him to come down next summer too, now that he is retired.
SE) A year ago, Brazil failed to win a single game. This year, you won the Bronze medal. What changed from year to year?
Well, like I said, I was able to hand pick the team this year. I chose guys whose inline skills would translate over to Ice Hockey. They said this was the first year any of these guys had ever been coached. My voice is still recovering. Many many of the older players have played inline together and won championships together, so it was really their leadership that played a key role. Their leadership helped us become a team very quickly.
SE) What’s the training like before a tournament?
JH) Well, I told Capelle to book as many ice times as he could because we were going to need it! Inline hockey is completely different from Ice Hockey. They play 4 on 4, there is no off-side, no icing, no checking, and the puck is smaller and of course stopping. I was very worried about all of these things but, the biggest concern for me was their willingness to check and be checked, as well as 5 v 5 team defense.
So we booked as much ice as possible and after 10 minutes into the first practice I realized that we had go back to the basics of skating. Crossovers, transition skating, stops and starts, picking up their feet. All of these things they were not accustomed to. Looking back on it now I really should have bag skated them for one whole practice so they would have been in skating shape and really understood how to stop. We had many times during the tournament where guys would fly by the puck and make big turns, instead of stopping and going the other direction.
Towards the end of the tournament it was very apparent that we were out of shape. They did however, get better at checking as the tourney progressed. This was an advantage because we were a bigger team. We booked practice times at different mall rinks as well as the Ice dome before the games started. We literally worked on everything in those 6 practices and probably could have used even more ice time. The hardest thing to get through to them was understanding the different zones. Once we figured that out, our game improved dramatically. In our last game we played really hard, we fore-checked aggressively but, we also played with discipline which helped us sustain pressure. Next year, I have already said that we need to have a week of practice prior to the tournament to just work on skills. Then when we arrive for the tournament we will only focus on Systems, PP, PK etc…
SE) Logan Delaney, a member of Canada’s championship winning team a year ago, said the tournament meant more than just winning a medal. Would you say the same?
JH) Yes I would say so. For Brazil it is about the beginning of something much bigger than this one tournament. They proved to each other that they can play ice hockey at a very high level and they proved to this country that they have some Ice Hockey talent! This was about planting seeds for the future of Brazilian Ice Hockey.
SE) For the players involved, many of whom had little to no experience on ice, what were their thoughts about the whole event?
JH) They loved it! Many of them said, “Why do I even play inline hockey?” I said, because you don’t have an ice rink. Everyone was extremely happy for the opportunity. Next year there will be even more competition for the roster spots…which is always good for successful teams.
SE) Besides winning the bronze, what moment really stood out to you the most from the Pan-Am tournament?
JH) First of all I was just asked to pick the team and to coach, the language barrier prevents me from knowing everything. However, I kept asking myself? “Where is the IIHF?” Why are they not here helping run this tournament?” I mean I know this is the second year of this tournament and it is in Mexico City. So for that I guess I should be grateful which I am but, I think you can always improve. I have seen adult beer tournaments organized better than this. From the ice, to the fog in the arena, to the relaxed IIHF rules, to the poor format of the games, it wasn’t ideal for a top level tournament. I know they are trying to start something in Mexico which is awesome but, if I am the IIHF and I want to see hockey grow in central and South America, I would give them more support than just money. They need guidance and leadership. On another note, USA Hockey and Canada Hockey should really help out these officials and show them how this tournament should be officiated. Maybe just hire 2-4 refs to help assist alongside the other refs. I know this is cliché but, the officiating was very, very poor. I am not saying that for the games I was coaching either. The other games I watched, the refs would basically go back in time and call penalties that they didn’t call initially. This happened in the final game too. So, hopefully in time they can get better but, still if this is an IIHF tournament, then let’s make it a top notch tournament and do it right.
On a positive note, which the IIHF should be all over too, is the passion for the game that all of these countries have! It was truly remarkable. These countries just need an opportunity and some leadership from some people who have helped hockey grow in non-traditional markets. Maybe Gary Bettman wants to expand to South America? Kidding aside, it is all about Leadership to grow this game. I am glad it is started, now let’s get some support to grow it. Finally the Colombian team was awesome! Privately funded, I believe, both the male and female teams played with class and passion.
SE) Overall, was the whole experience what you were hoping for?
JH) Yes I would say so. The Team was awesome from start to finish. I don’t speak Portuguese so, the language barrier was always difficult. It was especially difficult when I was trying to get them to play ice hockey rather than inline hockey. So, little key terms like chip it in and chip it out were difficult for the players. I really enjoyed it though. I haven’t coached since 2010 so, to have this opportunity to coach this game that I love, it was very special.
SE) Has there been discussions already for next year’s tournament? If so, how will you prepare for the event differently?
JH) We are going to have inline training with ice hockey rules this year and next year. We also will hopefully be able to train in Florida or somewhere else in America prior to attending the tournament. These guys need more time on the ice and more games to play.
SE) Do you think the good result will help result in some more support in the near future?
JH) Yes, I really believe it will. Brazilians love sports and basically we just need money to build a rink. The Confederation wants to do it, and once we get that major sponsor to see the value in building an ice rink it will happen. This is going to be my main initiative. Once that first domino falls, everything else will too.
Follow me on twitter, @StevenEllisNHL. Make sure to also follow Jens, @WildRube22.