During the 2012 Pan American Junior Championships in Guadalajara, FIH.ch had the chance of finding out about hockey in Puerto Rico. We sat down with Victor Martinez Arcelay, Press Officer of the Hockey Federation of Puerto Rico, who also works with the junior team as part of the coaching staff here in Guadalajara, and his wife Katherina Perez Santiago, who works for the Puerto Rican Federation and is an event official in the girls' tournament.
Q: Tell us a little bit about hockey in Puerto Rico.
We have nine clubs in Puerto Rico, and a total of about 500 to 600 players all together in the senior and junior and youth leagues, but participation varies a lot. The men's league runs from August to December, and the women play from February to May. The children play during the same time as the men, and the youth during the same time as the women.
Q: And outside of the leagues?
Outside of these periods, the players train with the national teams. The women's team plays the men often, this is meant to raise the women's playing level. We also play indoor hockey.
Q: What is the biggest challenge for the sport in Puerto Rico?
The biggest challenge will have to be that we only have one pitch, one waterbased pitch. Because of this, we play indoor hockey to promote the sport, because indoor halls are available everywhere for basketball and volleyball and so on. We play a lot of indoor hockey. We don't play a league but many tournaments, and then there is also the national indoor tournament, which is a 4 day event. Indoor hockey helps to develop the technical skills, but personally, I don't like it much, because the players get used to the faster pace, and then they struggle to go back to regular hockey.
Q: What do you do to promote and develop the sport in your country?
We do a lot of work with children, introducing them to the sport and trying to keep them interested - in order to grow the sport, and get better, you need a big base of players. Amongst the older players, youth and adults, we have a few girls who have studied in the USA, and played college hockey there, and then they come back with very good skills. For the boys, it is a little more complicated. The players are all developed domestically but in the last few years we've had very good experiences with sending players to Argentina: they go to Argentina, and play in the league there, which is very strong, for some months, and when they come back, we notice a big improvement.
Q: What is your opinion of your team's performance in this Pan American Junior Championship?
The boys are doing ok, you need to take into account that we have only 14 players, and some of them are very young. Our goalkeeper is only 15 years old, but he is very, very talented. The team lacks the experience, some of them are quite small compared to their opponents, and they are not as physical, so this is a good opportunity, they need to play to grow and develop.
Q: Why did you bring only 14 players?
We have more players, that is not the reason! But we have very strict disciplinary requirements, for behavior and for attendance at practices, and a few players didn't make it because of that. One player had to drop out at the last moment because he couldn't get away from school.
Q: And the girls?
Unfortunately, we didn't have enough girls in this age group to bring a team here. The women's senior team is quite young, a lot of players in their early to mid-twenties with a few teenagers, but it wasn't enough for a whole junior team. The women's team is going to the World League in Trinidad & Tobago though, which will be good for them to play matches and gain experience. World League is an excellent innovation for countries like us, it gives us more opportunities to play other teams and grow instead of just training at home all the time.
Q: The men will also be playing in the World League in Trinidad.
Yes, and we have high expectations for them, we really want to qualify for Round 2. The goalkeeper we have here in Guadalajara will join the senior team as the second goalkeeper for that tournament by the way, like I said, he is only 15 but very talented. But even if we can't make it to Round 2, a good performance is very important to us, it will give us valuable points for the World Ranking.
Q: Apart from World League, what are the plans for the immediate future of hockey in Puerto Rico?
We are applying to host the 2014 Pan American Youth Championships for boys and girls. We have plans to develop the pitch we have into a stadium, with offices and a permanent stand, so that would give us a good venue to host this tournament, and to play at home would be the best conditions for our teams to do well. The Youth Championships are a qualifier for the 2014 Youth Olympic Games, and to qualify for those would be fantastic for us.
Thank you, Victor and Katherina, for speaking with us, and good luck to Puerto Rican hockey!
For full coverage of the Pan American Junior Championships, including results, pools, match summaries, photos, videos and more, please visit the website of the Pan American Hockey Federation.
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