October 07, 2013

Chacho and The Mexican Hockey Dream That Never Came True

Recently I looked at hockey history in Greece and it was a big hit. Now I've found this article from 1968 about the imminent rise of Mexico as a hockey nation. If you read it back then you could be forgiven if you thought Mexico would one day be a world power in hockey.

The was enthusiastically written by Ricardo Suarez in Sports Review's Pro Hockey magazine. Let's look at the article, and see where Mexico stands now in the world of hockey.

They Even Like Hockey In Old Mexico

For More than a half century youngsters north of the American border in virtually every city, town and hamlet in Canada have been learning to play hockey from the time they were knee-high to a hockey puck.

Now, the sport is catching on south of the United States . . . in Old Mexico!

Si, senores y senoritas, the land of Pancho Villa, the nation that gave Dolores Del Rio and Cantinflas to the entertainment field plus Manuel Ramos and Rueben Amaro to the sports world, is taking to hockey like an angry bull to a red cape.

Bullfighting is still the major sport in Mexico, but interest in hockey has grown by leaps and bounds the past few years. Only several months ago, National Hockey League Services, Inc and CBS Enterprises announced that video tapes of nine big league hockey games had been sold for viewing on Mexican television.

"It's fantastic the way Mexicans are taking to ice skating," says Joseph Prendergast, a 39 year old Canadian geophysicist who lives in Mexico City. "In the past few years, we've set up quite a few leagues."

The game was introduced in Mexico City in the early 1960s and the organizers soon were anxious to refine their knowledge by learning from the experts. They settled for no less than the Montreal Canadiens, the perennial NHL titleholders.

Four years ago, Jaime Roberts, secretary of the Mexico City Hockey Association, wrote to the Canadiens appealing for assistance. The Canadiens invited him to Montreal where he spent several days watching the team in action.

While in the Canadian metropolis Roberts told Canadiens officials about his son, Chacho, a 17 year old who was leading the Mexico City Junior Hockey League in scoring. He had 14 goals in 11 games to his credit, a mighty good pace even for Bobby Hull.

Chacho, who had learned to skate only the year before, was asked to come to Montreal where he worked out with junior teams sponsored by the NHL club. Among his instructors was Scotty Bowman.

"I learned a lot while I was there," Chacho says. "I think I improved my skating more than anything."

"The NHL has quite a following in Mexico," Chacho continued. "Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita are big heroes there. The papers follow the league pretty closely."

Ice skating and hockey have become so popular, in fact, that Pista Olympica, one of the newest and largest rinks in Mexico City, paid off its $500,000 building within a year.

The Mexicans, of course, had no background in ice skating. Temperatures in Mexico City which is 7,500 feet above sea level rarely drop to freezing. And the other areas of the country have temperate or tropical weather.

"When I first got here in 1962," recalls Pendergrast, the Canadian. "I didn't know if I'd need my ice skates or not. But I threw them in my trunk and brought them along."

Once he got to Mexico, the geophysicist happened to see a Mexican youngster strolling along with ice skates dangling over his shoulder. Excited, he asked about skating and eventually found a rink.

"The freezing unites weren't working too well, but it was better than nothing."

Two rinks with artificial were built in 1964.

"It was so bad before we started getting more rinks," relates Chacho Roberts, "that we had to practice at 5 o'clock in the morning because there weren't enough rinks for all the players."

From practically nothing, organized hockey in Mexico now encompasses almost a dozen pee-wee teams, almost 20 high school clubs with a total of 400 boys and several senior A and senior B teams.

To help stimulate interest in the sport, 15 young hockey players from Chicago were given scholarships to National University in Mexico City. The project was underwritten by a Mexican millionaire movie chain owner.

It may take another few years for the first native Mexican to make his mark in the National Hockey League of the United States and Canada. One must remember, too, that the Soviet Union did not have an organized hockey team until 20 years ago. Now, the Russians are the defending Olympic and World champions.

The Mexicans, too, are hoping to send a representative team to the World Amateur Championships in the near future. From the enthusiastic way they're going about it, they'll probably be there battling the Canadians, Americans and Russians fairly soon.

And that's no bull!


Remember, that article is from 1968. Fast forward to 2013 and, well, we're still waiting for the Mexicans to challenge the big boys of hockey.

According to IIHF data Mexico has 2345 registered hockey players in 2013, with about 1600 of those being under the age of 20. Interestingly, there are nearly as many male senior players (390) as there are female players (358). All of this takes place in one of the 23 rinks now in the country.

Mexico joined the IIHF in 1985 and participated in their first world championships (C pool) in 2000.

Of the 48 members in the IIHF, Mexico opens the 2013-14 season ranked 36th, ahead of China, Israel, South African and Ireland amongst other nations.

1 comment:

FrenchFriesSavage said...

Very interesting story about an unthinkable hockey nation.
But it's great to have people all around the world who love the game of hockey.
Maybe you could find one day a hockey team on the Moon! (I know that sound off-the-wall)!
Thanx for your good work,Joe.