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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Costa Rica Ice Hockey: Winter Olympic Dreams in the Tropics

It is not widely appreciated or publicized but it is possible to ice skate and play ice hockey in Costa Rica and an ice hockey program has managed to survive at the Castillo Country Club for over two decades. Access to the rink is limited to Castillo Club members and their guests with the exception of hockey tournaments.

I have many happy memories of my days coaching at the Castillo and seeing the new rink being built in 2013 was one of the best. In this interview current Castillo youth hockey program coach Alexei Denysov and Castillo Recreation Director Kathia Bolanos Pacheco talk about the only place in Central America where Winter Olympic dreams are being pursued.

The Castillo Club is unique in having the only ice rink in Central America. Tell us a bit about its history and the programs that are offered there currently.

Kathia:

El Castillo is a mountain club that was created 52 years ago. As part of the recreation and sports areas, the ice rink was built approximately 30 years ago. This rink had very small dimensions, so in 2014 the administration made the decision to remodel the new rink with semi-Olympic dimensions.

This investment was more than 1 million dollars. Currently there is a figure skating school and a hockey school. In addition, members can use the rink recreationally and have the experience of being able to skate on an ice rink that is unique in all of Central America.

How can the general public get involved in ice hockey and figure skating? Can tourists visiting Costa Rica come visit the rink?

Kathia:

The hockey school was formed in 1996 by you (Bruce Callow) and since that year hockey classes have been taught at the club to children and adults. Players start as beginners where they are taught the basic techniques of skating and hockey. At the beginning of each year a sports class fair is held at the club, where the disciplines of hockey and figure skating are made known to attract new athletes to these Winter Olympic sports.

Since 2017 the international hockey tournament has been held, where we have the participation of different teams from Canada, the United States, and the Falkland Islands. The Ice Castle skating school has different levels of SAM, Basic, Free Skate, Pre Free Skate, Advanced and adult skating.

As part of the technical and artistic evaluation, at the end of each year a skating show is held where the skaters stage everything they learned during the year. The club, being private, is not open to the public, so only members or their guests can attend.

If someone is interested in becoming a member of the Castillo Club what do they need to do?

Kathia:

To become a member of the club it is necessary to purchase a share and pay a monthly or annual maintenance fee. At the moment there are no shares available, but if you want information you can contact our colleagues from members services and they will help you with the guide in case you are interested in being part of such a prestigious club.

An exhibit from the Castillo hockey program including a uniform and other memorabilia is on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame museum in Toronto. What does the Castillo Club think about this international projection?

Kathia:

It is an honor and of great pride to be part of the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Hockey in Costa Rica has been growing a lot in recent years and we hope to be able to participate in different international tournaments with the representation of the Castillo Knights. We currently have several players who are on the team that represents Central America.

Last year they went to the Amerigol Latam Cup tournament where they placed fourth. For this year we are working with the creation of the Ice Hockey Federation in Costa Rica and continue working on the skills of the players hoping that at some point we can have representation in the Winter Olympic Games.

Please tell us about the youth ice hockey program at the Castillo. What are your plans for the upcoming season?

Alexei:

The hockey program at the Castillo Country Club is mainly designed for children, because children are the future. It is worth mentioning that the children in Costa Rica are quite capable and talented at hockey. Of course, we will not be able to form professional players here, but we will make every effort to provide children with a professional base, a chance to build a professional career in the future, and to gain  sports scholarships in foreign universities.

This season we plan to handle 3-4 children’s training sessions a week, and we are considering the creation and registration of the Ice Hockey Federation in Costa Rica, thus hoping for the help and support of major hockey clubs.

The NHL Players Association ( NHLPA) used to sponsor the hockey program at the Castillo. How do you outfit your players with protective gear these days?

Alexei:

We are very grateful to the NHL organization for providing us with the uniforms. The equipment donated to us is still used by both children and adults. Unfortunately, the situation with the equipment is not the best. There are not enough sets of uniforms, and the ones that we have are already worn out and not in proper condition.

If the situation with adults is not so deplorable, since players buy uniforms, preferring to have their own equipment, then the situation is different with children. Most parents are not ready to invest this amount of money in uniforms, skates, and sticks.

After all, it’s no secret that hockey is not a cheap kind of sport, and even more so for parents, since the children’s uniform has to be updated every couple of years as they grow. At the moment we are compiling a list and buying the necessary children’s equipment for the near future. In the current development of hockey, we still hope to create a federation and enlist the support of sponsors and other hockey clubs.

The Castillo hosts an International ice hockey tournament each November. How was the last tournament and what are the plans for this year‘s tournament?

Alexei:

Every year the Castillo Country Club hosts several teams for friendly international tournaments, exclusively at the amateur level in early November. To date, two teams from the USA (New Jersey and Los Angeles), New Jersey Sure and The Team of LA, as well as two teams from Costa Rica – Castillo Knights and San Jose Vikings, took part in the tournament. In 2019, Castillo Club’s team won first place. In recent years the tournament had to be canceled due to the Covid pandemic.

In 2022, several friendly matches were held with the San Jose Vikings team from La Sabana, as well as a game with a team from Guatemala on the Castillo Club’s ice rink. As for the annual international tournament, it was resumed in November 2022. Last year, three teams competed, New Jersey Sure,

The Team of LA and Castillo Knights. New Jersey’s and Costa Rican teams entered the final and as a result, the first place was won by the New Jersey Sure team. Last year’s tournament was great, it was fun and entertaining, and also it’s an excellent reason for foreign players to visit Costa Rica, a country that impresses with its beauty and has so much to offer.

In addition to national tournaments, it is planned to hold two international tournaments in 2023. The first one in early July, with the participation of amateur teams at the basic level from Central and South America.

The second tournament is scheduled for early November, with the participation of teams from the USA and Canada at a slightly more advanced level. We would be happy to host teams interested in taking part in our tournament and would be grateful for any contacts.

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