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Hockey Is For Everyone

Amerigol LATAM Cup includes lots of expats, dual citizens

About 25 percent of 400-plus players don't live in countries they're representing

by William Douglas @WDouglasNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. -- Michael Nijjar can usually be seen wearing a Vegas Golden Knights jersey as a proud member of their ownership group.

On Friday, Nijjar wore the red, yellow and blue jersey of Colombia, proudly playing for the country of his mother and wife at the Amerigol LATAM Cup tournament at the Florida Panthers IceDen.

"I used to play roller hockey a lot, and we played the Colombians quite a bit," said Nijjar, a defenseman who lives in Los Angeles. "They knew I was half-Colombian, and they said, 'Hey, you should come out and play,' so I actually went out to the consulate about five years ago, got my dual citizenship and flew out to Mexico and played a tournament in Mexico City."

 

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Nijjar is one of many players in the tournament who do not live in the countries they are representing. Dual citizens, expats and players whose parents are from one of the eight Latin American and Caribbean countries dot the lineups and coaching ranks.

Amerigol LATAM Cup rules require that players are citizens of the countries they're representing or have direct relatives -- parents or grandparents -- who are from there.

The tournament, in its second year, has 21 men's, women's and under-16 teams from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, the Falkland Islands, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, the United States and Venezuela competing in four divisions.

About 25 percent of the more than 400 players don't live in the countries they're representing, according to Juan Carlos Otero, one of the tournament organizers.

Forward Jaden Lindo, who was selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the sixth round (No. 173) of the 2014 NHL Draft, was born in Brampton, Ontario, but is playing for Jamaica, his family's country.

Jamaica has only one player who was born on the Caribbean island. Most of its players are Canadian residents who play competitively there. One, forward Marlon Williams, plays club hockey in England.

Jamaica is trying to build a national program to someday compete in the Olympics, and Lindo, a 23-year-old who had a goal and an assist in Jamaica's 5-0 win against Nijjar's Colombia, is a big component.

"This tournament means so much to us, this is for history," said Lindo, who played last season for Queens University in Kingston, Ontario, and was prominently featured in the 2015 documentary "Soul on Ice: Past, Present and Future." "Jamaica, we haven't been able to show our talent in the game of hockey. People would never expect us to play hockey, but that's just a stereotype, and we're going to prove that this weekend."

James Vargas has never visited Chile, but the 16-year-old from Markham, Ontario, was in goal for the country against Venezuela with his father, Javier, proudly watching. For the Vargases, who learned about the tournament on Facebook, participating in it is the chance of a lifetime.

"In Canada, the odds of you playing for a national team is 0.01 percent," said Javier Vargas, who was born in Chile. "Enjoy it, live it. You should have heard the kids in the car, 'I'm going to throw up, I'm going to throw up, I'm nervous.' I'm like, 'Guys, just enjoy it.'"

James Vargas made 22 saves, but Chile lost to Venezuela 8-4 in its opening game in the top men's division. He said representing his father's country "was pretty cool."

"I plan to visit Chile next year," he said.

Sam Uisprapassorn, an Orange County, Calif., resident who coaches hockey at Chapman University, stumbled on the fact that Colombia had a hockey team five years ago while doing a Google search.

On Friday, he was behind the bench coaching the team.

"I got a hold of them, didn't hear back for about three months, then one day, out of the blue, they got a hold of me," said Uisprapassorn, whose mother is Colombian and father Thai. "But this tournament is great, and the talent level of players who come from their countries is getting better. God forbid someone drop a rink in the middle of Latin America because the talent is definitely there."

 

Photos courtesy: Dan Shriner/Amerigol LATAM Cup photographer

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