William Douglas has been writing The Color of Hockey blog for the past seven years. Douglas joined NHL.com in March and will be writing about people of color in the game. Today, as part of Hispanic Heritage Month, he profiles efforts of the Dallas Stars and other NHL teams to grow hockey in Mexico.
The Dallas Stars consider places like Austin, Houston and El Paso, Texas, Tulsa and Oklahoma City, and Shreveport, La., as part of their hockey domain.
Mexico could be next.
The Stars are planning to hold Learn to Play clinics for youth in Mexico City later this fall after they conducted the program, created by the NHL and NHL Players' Association, there in February and March.
"We got real ambitious and did the first international one down in Mexico City," Stars director of amateur hockey & partnership development Lucas Reid said. "We paid them a visit two years ago to set the relationship up with the Mexico Ice Hockey Federation and returned last winter and started the first NHL Learn to Play there."
Learn to Play provides first-time hockey participants ages four to nine with a unique experience by providing equipment, age-appropriate instruction, and certified coaching led by NHL alumni in a fun and safe atmosphere.
For $150 (U.S.), Learn to Play participants in Mexico City received a full bag of equipment and six one-hour sessions taught by instructors that included retired forward Bob Bassen, who had 232 points (88 goals, 144 assists) in 765 games with the Stars, New York Islanders, Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, Calgary Flames and Quebec Nordiques.
About 30 children participated in the six-week program at the Ice Station Buenavista near downtown Mexico City, almost half of them were girls.
"We'd like to go down there more and help grow that base. Obviously, with us and our brand being there we're hoping that we can be at the forefront of their mind when they're introducing new kids and families to the sport," Reid said. "We certainly want to go back down. We don't have a time and date planned yet, but we're assuming we'll be back down sometime this fall."
And Mexico ice hockey officials can't wait for the Stars' return, said Andres de la Garma, a goalie coach for the federation.
"It was a good deal for our kids," de la Garma said. "We're looking forward to starting another program in another rink with the Dallas Stars."
The Stars aren't the only NHL franchise eyeing Mexico. The Los Angeles Kings hosted a three-day youth hockey camp in Mexico City in 2018 that attracted 100 players.
The Anaheim Ducks invited 21 youth hockey players from Mexico to a summer camp at its practice facility in 2012.
People don't normally view Mexico as a hockey nation. But it's been a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation since 1985 and has more than 3,000 registered players, according to Mexico Ice Hockey Federation President Joaquin de la Garma.
Players from Mexico have made their way to junior hockey in Canada and to professional leagues overseas. Claudia Tellez, a women's national team forward, was a 2016 draft pick (No. 39) by Calgary of the Canadian Women's Hockey League.
"If you compare the population with the country with the number of hockey players, it's maybe .0001 that play ice hockey," Joaquin de la Garma said. "But we have a lot of kids playing now, and that's important for us."
Reid said the Stars want to help grow the game south of the border.
"We're hoping that our involvement with the Learn to Play will give them some continuity across facilities and within the federation that can give them kind of a baseline to keep introducing the sport at the grassroots level," he said. "But there's definitely a thirst for it."
-Photos courtesy of Lucas Reid/Dallas Stars