Brazil back on ice
by Christian Pierre|26 JAN 2023
Players from the first Brazilian women’s ice hockey championship and the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend in Sao Paolo pose for a photo.
photo: CBDG
Admit it. When Brazil ops up in a conversation, images of inviting beaches and tropical cocktails emerge. However, the biggest country on the South American continent has a rather small but extremely passionate ice hockey community that closely knits together. And with the opening of Arena Ice Brasil in Sao Paulo, an ice sports venue run by the Brazilian Ice Sports Federation (CBDG), ice hockey is diligently growing again after years of struggling.

Indeed, recently, the CBDG organized its National Ice Hockey Championship, be it 3-on-3 due to ice-size limitations, after a hiatus of more than a decade. During three weekends in a row the federation hosted a youth, men’s, and women’s championship, with the women’s being the inaugural event.

“We are really happy and satisfied we could finally host a national championship again,” confirms Salvador Ferreira, the federation’s ice hockey director. Ferreira, an aviation inspector, is one of the volunteer driving forces of Brazil’s ice hockey program. 

“It was an experiment as it was the first championship in many years. It was also the first time we used our own federation-operated ice rink to host it. Previously the championship was played in ice rinks located in shopping malls, which were not always a good fit. Hardly suitable for ice hockey and rink owners were not always cooperative.”

Hence the idea of building and running a federation-owned venue. “The Brazilian Ice Sports Federation changed its management in 2014 and has been very focused on figure skating, entering a Brazilian skater in the 2018 Winter Olympics, while also competing in bobsleigh at the Olympics for quite a while. So, we decided it was time to focus also on the other ice sports,” explains Salvador. “Ice hockey was the obvious choice as we have a strong inline hockey environment. The last three Olympics curling was also popular. As a result, we got funding from World Curling to build three curling ice sheets here. At the same time, we decided to add a small 3-on-3 ice hockey rink (28 on 18 metres) as well for starters. Hence, we are currently focusing on developing 3-on-3 to get more people involved in ice hockey to justify a full-size ice rink soon. I guess we’re only one or maybe two years away from opening a full-size ice hockey rink here.” 

The federation plans its first full-size rink also in Sao Paulo. “In the vicinity of the city we have a full-size inline hockey rink. However, the floor is damaged and needs to be repaired. We therefore proposed to city hall to put in the pipes for freezing so we can put in an ice sheet as well, make it a multi-functional rink. So, we can use it for both sports. The proposal was well received,” says Salvador. “We have two other cities in the state, i.e., Amparo and Sao Jose dos Campos, that also want to build a full-size ice rink, so it looks promising.” 

Tough Luck

When Arena Ice Brasil opened in January 2020, two weeks later the Covid pandemic hit the world hard. “That was really bad luck and set us back,” admits Salvador. “We had to close for 18 months before we could start developing the sport again. But with hosting a national championship for youth players, men, and women we are back on track now. Also, the rink is operated all year round, so we can work on developing throughout the whole year.”

National Championship

Currently, Brazil counts some 100 plus registered ice hockey players. The national championship was played in three divisions: youth, men’s and women’s. Five teams were registered in the youth championship, four in the men’s and three in the women’s. A round robin was played with each game counting two periods of 20 minutes. 

The men’s event ended in an entertaining ‘battle’ between generations. “The team of the Sao Paulo Hockey Academy won the championship,” Salvador continues. “It’s comprised of players who are all U20. They rivalled in the final with Team Lokomotiv, from Rio de Janeiro. Lokomotiv was ahead of the youngsters but in the end, they didn’t have the stamina of the young guns who beat them before the sound signal of the final buzzer.”

After being rewarded their medals, the newly champions were in for a big surprise. “As an award for winning the title, they will participate in a Czech training camp in 2023, a trip paid by the federation,” Salvador added. “At first they thought we were joking, but when they realized their precious prize, we saw only happy faces.”

For Salvador the event was a success. “Next time we plan to host the championship in March, more in line with the ice hockey season and we would like to bring a Brazilian national squad to the Development Cup.”

Beyond all his planning, Salvador has another goal on his bucket list. “I’m working on another rink project for a first ice rink in the city of Belem at the Amazon. I’m originally from there, so it’s a bit personal,” he jokes. 

Traveling to Brazil to play the Championship

“It was a great event with a fantastic atmosphere,” confirms Ronald ‘Ronny’ Calhau, a 58-year-old veteran Brazilian ice hockey player who has been involved in ice hockey in Brazil and inline hockey in Portugal for many years. “I currently live in San Jose, California, where I continue to play ice hockey but came down the Sao Paulo, because I didn’t want to miss this national championship. Although the rink had its limitations due to its size, which allows only 3-on-3, it was really cool. We had players coming in from the northern states of Brazil, from Rio de Janeiro. It was much better than I thought it would be.

“The men’s division had four teams with a goalie and six players each so we could change player lines. We started on Friday evening and the games continued Saturday. Surprisingly, the youngest team in the men’s division won the championship. The team was comprised of players attending the Hockey Academy in Sao Paulo, coached by Eric Olson, a Canadian who lives in Brazil. Second place went to Lokomotiv, a team from Rio de Janeiro, while my team, The Ice Breakers, from Sao Paulo finished third.

“The majority of the players also play in local inline hockey leagues and some of the players of the winning team represent Brazil in the national inline hockey team,” he adds. “As they are playing together inline hockey, they were well trained and have been playing on ice together since the ice rink opened. They are making a lot of progress.” Inline hockey continues to be a surrogate for the lack of ice rinks in Brazil, although the CBDG does not sanction inline hockey leagues anymore. 

However, since the opening of their ice rink, ice hockey has been growing. “Sending teams to international tournaments has also helped grow the interest in ice hockey,” says Calhau, mentioning events in the U.S.. “We even had an U12 team winning their division, however, mostly with kids from Brazilian parents who live in the U.S., but still. All things combined, the rink opening in Sao Paulo and consistently sending out teams to as many international tournaments as possible is really helping to get more people in Brazil interested in ice hockey. I know the federation is working hard to send a team to the next IIHF Development Cup in Fussen. If only we would have a couple of full-size rinks, the situation would be totally different. I know the federation is doing its best to get a first full-sized rink in place. So, I’m confident it will happen.”

Inaugural Women’s Championship

While there have been men’s championships in the past, it was a first for women’s ice hockey in the country. A driving force behind it was Ana Boghosian, member of the CBDG’s Technical Committee. The Rio de Janeiro native is an ice hockey player herself and spent several years in the United States playing college ice hockey in the ACHA before returning to her native Brazil. “Since I was 17, it was my goal to grow Brazilian women’s ice hockey in any way, shape, or form possible. When I returned to Brazil after college, I restarted playing inline hockey because that’s where all the girls play. So, the very first thing I did was try-out for the women’s national inline hockey team and luckily, I got selected. Having spent seven years away, getting back in inline hockey and getting to know all the girls involved, was the first step. You must know your target group and it sure helps if they know you. People are afraid to try something new, like making the cross-over to ice hockey. When I started telling the girls about our ice event, they got excited.”

When the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend happened in October, Boghosian wanted to take part in it as well. “We wanted to host it at the same time as all other IIHF member nations,” she says. “However, the inline nationals for women took place during the same weekend so we decided to postpone the girls’ ice event. And that’s what helped us making a success out of our first girls’ weekend. Around 30 girls showed up. Previously the CBDG has never had more than five or so at once. So, it was a success. We combined the girls’ weekend with the championship, starting with ice hockey clinics to ease the cross-over from inline and putting the most advanced players in teams to compete over the weekend.” 

Inline hockey remains a big surrogate for ice hockey in Brazil due to the lack of ice rinks and it’s not different on the women’s side. “I think it would be naive for us not to see that,” she admits. “Especially for the women. It would also be absurd to exclude people that already have all the equipment and play regularly but on inline skates.”

What’s next?

Boghosian has a clear vison where she wants to take the Brazilian girls and women. “Top priority on our list is to compete at the new IIHF Women’s Development Cup with our girls,” she says.  

“For ice hockey, which is an Olympic sport, in comparison with inline hockey, we might get 
governmental funding for such an event. So, we have a perspective here that could help us getting there rather sooner than later. Anyway, we need to get these girls to play more hockey, it doesn’t matter if it’s on ice or on wheels. As long as we are used to play on both surfaces, and they put on their skates and grab their stick. If other countries can do it, why not us? In the end, hockey is hockey. And the more girls can play the game of hockey – the better!”