Madrid. A city whose sporting heart beats for the Santiago Bernabeu rather than the Stanley Cup. Yet the Spanish capital, or at least its suburbs, is hoping for a hockey boom in the near future.
With Spain hovering at around 30th in the world rankings, it will be a long time before the national team is able to pose much of a threat to the established hockey powers. But a game which is typically played up in the Pyrenees is looking to expand its reach towards the capital. So, when the national Ice Sports Federation was invited to host an Olympic qualifying group, President Frank Gonzalez jumped at the chance to raise funds and bring the tournament to Valdemoro’s Francisco Fernandez Ochoa rink.
“We’ve seen that there’s a lot of interest but the problem is we don’t have enough arenas,” Gonzalez said. “If we get the facilities, the clubs will follow. We have a lot of inline hockey teams in Spain who would love to jump on to the ice, but first they need that ice to play on.”
There was plenty of work to do to get Valdemoro ready, and Gonzalez himself was rushing about helping the workmen knock in the final nails on the eve of the competition as a temporary stand went up behind one of the nets.
“In the end I think we were a bit short on seats,” Gonzalez added. “Over the weekend we saw more and more fans coming along as they heard about what was happening here and saw some of the TV coverage. That’s a real asset for our sport, and that’s why we need to organize these events.”
Spain’s head coach Luciano Basile was also excited by the transformation as Valdemoro’s facility was upgraded to match the arena at Majadahonda, home of Madrid’s leading hockey team.
“All the money that Frank was able to pull together for this tournament was invested in the rink here in Valdemoro,” Basile said. “It had no decent nets, it had no plexi, it had no scoreboard, it had no locker rooms. Everything you see here today is new.
“Just playing this tournament here means that all of a sudden we’ve got a great new facility that we didn’t have before. All the money that was invested in the rink is going to stay in the rink. Madrid only had one real hockey rink, but now we have two. That’s already a great thing.”
On the ice Spain was up against Serbia, Iceland and China. The Serbs, top seeds but unable to host the competition themselves, were seen as the team to beat. Iceland were the dark horses while China, Olympic hosts in 2022, were rank outsiders in need of a huge revamp of the national program to stand any chance of getting a team in action on home ice in Beijing.
The opening rounds went to form, setting up a winner-takes-all showdown in front of a packed house on Sunday evening. In the square next to the bullring, Spanish flags fluttered from the end of hockey sticks. Souvenir stalls did a brisk trade in commemorative pucks and replica jerseys. Hopes were high and, with a 2-0 lead at the first intermission, Spanish fans were dreaming of a trip to the next qualifying phase in Italy. But it was not to be. Serbia hit back and ultimately claimed a 5-3 victory on Marko Milovanovic’s fourth of the competition with 2:34 left in regulation. Marko Brkusanin’s empty-netter wrapped it up.
Disappointment on the ice, but renewed confidence off it. Spanish hockey looks to build towards a brighter future with more arenas available to help grow the game.
Quotes in this blog were taken from the coverage of the tournament on http://www.iihf.com.
Valdemoro, Spain, Nov. 2015
Olympic Ice Hockey Qualifying tournament, group L
- Serbia 3-0
- Spain 2-1
- Iceland 1-2
- China 0-3