The Amerigol Latam Cup might not hit many radars, especially as the NHL season opened up this week. Years ago, before the tournament had support from the Florida Panthers and before streaming moved from grainy cell phone feeds to a proper streaming platform, the event was known as the Pan-American Ice Hockey Games. Canada, using a team of beer leaguers and other former minor pro players, easily won gold.
But since then, the tournament has grown in big ways. Instead of just six teams, with just five teams playing in one division, the tournament has grown in a huge way. Seven teams are playing in the top division (Argentina, Colombia, Lebanon, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Jamaica and Venezuela), nine teams are in the second men's division, eight teams are playing in the two junior divisions and five teams are in the women's event.
And that's where it gets interesting. For the first time in their history, Puerto Rico has sent a women's team to an international event, marking a huge step forward for a country that has gone through just about everything to hit the ice in any way possible.
The men's team played in the Division II tournament back in 2019 and returned to that group this year. Puerto Rico won three of its four games before eventually losing to the Falkland Islands to the title match.
But the women's team has never played in a competitive setting, so this is a huge moment for the group.
Puerto Rico will begin the tournament with a 5:15 PM ET start against Chile. PR will then open up Friday's action with a 12:00 PM battle against Lebanon before playing Mexico later in the day. The medal games will be played Sunday afternoon.
In a special for the San Juan Daily Star, Philip Painter, one of the masterminds behind the hockey program, said goaltender Sonja Rodríguez saw an ad for a rum company in a magazine back in the 1970s and thought it seemed interesting. The thought of ice hockey, or a women's ice hockey team, in Puerto Rico seemed like a crazy dream. But it's not anymore.
“I can’t believe this is really happening,” Rodríguez told Painter. “I thought when I played on the men’s team at the 2019 LATAM that was as close as girl’s hockey would get.”
Hockey in PR does have an interesting history. During the closing stages of the 2006 NHL pre-season, San Juan, the Puerto Rican capital, played host to a game between the New York Rangers and Florida Panthers. It was the first NHL game played in the Caribbean and what should have been the start of a beautiful partnership between the NHL and the American territory. The game came a year after the grand opening of the 18,500-seat Jose Miguel Agrelot Coliseum, something that was set to kick off hockey in the area after years of organization.
It flopped. It didn't help that the game was during the slowest tourism season in September, but poor promotion of the event led to poor attendance which is estimated to have been around 5,000 patrons. The Panthers wanted to make it something big, but it didn't work out.
Now, look where Puerto Rico is. It's a big step forward.
Every game will be aired live for free on HockeyTV. Admission to the tournament at the Panthers IceDen is free and open to the public, so get down there to see unique hockey history if you have a chance.