One of the world’s leading figures in ball hockey sees big potential in the Cayman Islands.
International Street and Ball Hockey Federation President George Gortsos was on these shores for the 2014 Caribbean Cup at Kings Sports Centre over the weekend. Cayman would hoist the crown, beating arch-rivals Bermuda for the first time. Based on player feedback and the venue’s performance over the three-day tournament, Gortsos was left with a resoundingly positive first impression.
“It’s a celebration of the players in this area and from what I’m hearing from the players, they want to come back,” Gortsos said. “We may do it every two years. This tournament puts Cayman on the map in a sport that goes to Asia, North America and Europe, with 43 countries playing the game around the world. We would love to come back and bring more teams if Cayman and the team at Kings would have us.
“It brings an added economy, tourism and showcases the great ball hockey Cayman has to offer. It’s a celebration of Cayman hockey. Everyone loved the complex, they loved playing here because it’s the only covered arena in the Caribbean. If we come back, the schedule would be a world championship every odd year and the Caribbean Cup every even year and the next one would be 2016.”
Aside from Cayman and Bermuda, three other countries competed here and each of them fielded rosters with around 15 people, including coaches and support staff. All were accommodated between the Grand Cayman Marriott Beach Resort and Sunshine Suites and were transported to and from Kings using local buses. The Cayman Islands Ball Hockey Association, the sport’s local governing body, worked with Kings and the international federation to stage the tournament.
While the competition’s impact on the local economy is minimal and ball hockey is on the periphery of the local sporting scene, the idea of hockey being part of Cayman’s burgeoning sports tourism portfolio is intriguing. In Gortsos’s mind, Cayman will be a team to watch at the world championships next year.
“I commend the local organizers – Mark Thompson and Darryl Hather of the ball hockey association – for doing such a good job and for all the courtesy they have shown. I can’t thank the association enough. Bermuda and Cayman is a rivalry where the federation had never seen Cayman beat Bermuda at this high of a level. Bermuda has made a big impression in our sport as a model nation. They are the reigning champions for their pool at the world championships, which take place every two years.
“Both teams are using the tournament as preparation for the 2015 world championships in Zug, Switzerland. We’re expecting between 32 and 36 teams in Switzerland.”
Aside from visiting players and dignitaries like Gortsos, the Caribbean Cup also attracted a pair of officials. Darsh Grewall of Vancouver and Michael Wahbi of Toronto were sent by the Canadian Ball Hockey Association to officiate the matches and lead a brief referee clinic for prospective local refs. Both were left impressed.
“It was awesome and a real treat to be here,” Grewall said. “The tournament has been great and I love the laid-back lifestyle here.”
“The hockey was great and the people were friendly,” Wahbi said. “I went to Stingray City while I was here and that was beautiful. I highly recommend it. Cayman should be proud that it served as hosts.”
Cayman won the tournament in dramatic fashion, beating the United States and Bermuda last Saturday via penalty shoot-outs. As a result, local skaters went undefeated throughout the competition – topping their group before winning three playoff games. Cayman fielded a second team, captained by Patrick Cover, with Armenia and the Bahamas the other competing squads. Cover, whose squad lost all three of its matches, says the tournament will improve the sport and boost Cayman’s chances on the world stage.
“It was a great experience for us in an international tournament, much of the team had their first international play,” Cover said. “It’s good for them to be able to see what’s required, to see the intensity and level of play because it’s a faster and more physical game at the international level. We have to work a lot on fitness, which is a big part of the game. Personally, it’s fun to run at this level of intensity and be able to bump and grind.
“It’s good for the league on the whole. Normally, it’s the usual guys that go away to international games. A lot of guys here have the skill but internationally it’s a more physically demanding game from how we play and with a greater pace. Now we’ll train for Switzerland with tryouts for the national team and we’ll look for roughly 22 guys on that team. Cayman 1, the winning team, probably has about 17 guys that can be on that team with Randy Cannon the No. 1 goalie in Cayman.”