Following the Puck: Armenians get taste of international ice hockey

Ice hockey is a nascent sport in Armenia, but it is already seven years that the country has its own federation and a team that has regularly participated in world championships. This year Armenia is hosting its first-ever big international ice hockey tournament as Yerevan has been entrusted with organizing the 2010 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Division III World Championships.

“The ice rink at the Karen Demirchyan Sports & Concert Complex already available for two years has enabled us to hold games in Armenia,” President of the Armenian Ice Hockey Federation Hayk Jaghatspanyan told ArmeniaNow.

The ice rink also allowed opening an ice hockey school in Armenia where children aged 6-12 are trained in the sport. Jaghatspanyan says the holding of the world championships in Armenia and the existence of such a school in Yerevan give him hope that ice hockey will be further developed in the country, which, though was formerly part of the Soviet Union, did not contribute manpower to the Big Red Machine.

The current championship in Yerevan (April 14-18) is sponsored by the National Olympic Committee of Armenia (NOCA), but the structure has not yet taken any concrete steps for the development of ice hockey, a Winter Olympic sport. Among the constraints that might be influencing decisions of sport authorities in different countries when it comes to developing ice hockey is that the sport is considered costly – only one set of ice hockey gear might cost between $500 and $2,000.

Armenia has more than 40 national team players aged 18-30. One of the team’s leading players Manuk Balian tells ArmeniaNow that most of the team members live in different states of the United States and hold their trainings there, since appropriate organizing conditions are not provided in Armenia.

“Fourteen team members and I live and train in Los Angeles where I have at least three training sessions a week with a first-class coach. If we can get here [in Armenia] appropriate ice hockey gear and coaches we are ready to train in Armenia and develop this sport here,” says the 30-year-old veteran Armenia player.

But before the dream of establishing a top-class Armenia team and developing the sport in Armenia comes true, the longstanding dreams of many Armenian fans to watch ice hockey games in Armenia have been fulfilled.

“When we were going [to the arena], little did we expect things to turn out so good, so that we would enjoy both our victory and a quality game,” head of the European Movement in Armenia NGO Victor Yengibaryan, who was one of numerous spectators following an Armenia game at the Yerevan arena, told ArmeniaNow.

Together with about 150 members of his group Yengibaryan was in the stands when Armenia was thrashing South Africa, 9-2, Wednesday night.

“We’ve been so much immersed in politics and related issues that witnessing such a sporting event was a real thrill for us,” Yengibaryan told ArmeniaNow.

While the Armenia games have attracted large audiences at the Karen Demirchyan arena, quite a few among hundreds of fans appeared to be still learning the intricate rules of ice hockey. Anecdotal cases showed that some did not even know that unlike soccer an ice hockey match consists of three periods and would start leaving the arena after the second period thinking that the match was over. Many, however, say they’ve learned more about the rules of the game and developed passion for it since the start of the tournament.

On Thursday, Armenia beat North Korea in a tense match 7-6, while South Africa defeated Mongolia 12-1.

People who want to enjoy ice hockey in Yerevan still have two days ahead. Entrance to the arena is free, or by invitation.

On April 17, at 4.00 pm, the rival teams on the Armenian ice will be North Korea and South Africa, followed by an Armenia v Mongolia game at 8.00 pm. The third place game and the final are scheduled for April 18, at 4.00 pm and 8.00 pm, respectively.