Líga Nacional: Hockey Sobre Hielo en España.
Last week I took a look at the UK’s Elite Ice Hockey League, and so I thought it might be fun to turn this into a world tour by starting up a series about leagues in countries some of us may not know as much about. If you’re anything like me, even just a little bit, it’s always fun to get to know a new sporting culture and learn something that can either open a new door for you or make you appreciate the league you know and love even more. So, round two of this journey takes us to a place where I hope to log some serious vacation hours in years to come, glorious Spain.
According to the IIHF, Spain’s national team ranks #30 in the world in Men’s Competition and #29 in Women’s play. Not exactly an impressive ranking, but out of the member nations, not bad either for a non-traditional hockey nation. In 2014, they will host IIHF’s Division IIB Championships in April. Spain’s professional league, Líga Nacional, uses a relegation/promotion system and in any given season only includes six teams, most of which are based in Basqué Country in Northern Spain.
Here is the league breakdown for 2013/14:
1.) FC Barcelona (Barcelona)
2.) CH Aramón Jaca (Jaca)
3.) SAD Majadahonda (Madrid)
4.) CG Puigcerdá (Puigcerdá)
5.) CHH Txuri-Urdin (San Sebastian)
6.) CDH Bipolo (Vitoria-Gasteiz)
Teams play 20 matches, usually on Saturdays, during the regular season and at the end, four advance to the play-offs, of which the Semi-Final round is a Best-of-3 and the Championship, Best-of-5. The season starts up in late September and runs through Mid-February, with the Copa del Rey playoffs usually ending by Mid-Late March. You can have a glance at the league fixtures here.
Club CH Jaca holds the most titles and won four consecutively from 2009-2012, until CDH Bipolo claimed the title for 2012-2013. So far this season, Bipolo continues to dominate and are 16-1 with only three matches left.
The sport is certainly not a dominating one in Spain and as you’d expect so the arenas are small, but as is the case with most modest leagues in this world, where there is a love for the game of hockey, there is spirit and heated competition. Having clubs in close proximity never harms a good rivalry either.
Imports and Ice
One facet of hockey in the country is that Liga Nacíonal depends greatly on an influx of foreign players, who are either yet to arrive at a more prominent level in their respective nations and head to Spain for developmental opportunity, or those who may never reach the caliber required to turn professional in other countries where hockey is a focal point. According to Hockey Adventure Blog, “The majority of the imports come from Ukraine, Slovakia, Sweden, France, Yugoslavia and North America. It’s similar with the coaches, who often bring in players they know from their domestic leagues, easing the transition to the new culture and on-ice system.”
Another issue he points out facing the league is poor ice quality. When the sport isn’t bringing in even a fraction of what soccer brings in, it makes no sense to invest in better refrigeration systems when an arena of only 500 or 1,000 which does not always sell out won’t pay for that investment for quite some time. Game-play also varies a bit from the rest of Europe and North America. Those who’ve spent time in LN from other professional leagues have admitted having trouble adjusting to the less physical style and slower pace of the matches.
Beyond the ice, inline hockey is much more popular in España. The inline season begins in October and runs through March, basically concurrent with the ice hockey calendar, which I find really unique. The clubs are not centered around the same region such as LN.
Check out the eight pro-clubs in top tier Liga Elite Masculina this season:
1.) CP Castellbisbal Hornets (Catellbisbal)
2.) CPLV Mozo-Grau (Valladolid)
3.) Espanya Hoquei Club (Mallorca)
4.) HC Rubi Cent Patins (Barcelona)
5.) Hockey Club Castellon (Castellon)
6.) Metropolitano HC (Bilbao)
7.) Molina Sport Acegc (Las Palmas)
8.) Tres Cantos PC – Kamikazes (Madrid)
Run by Comité Nacional Hockey Línea, professional inline consists of both men’s and women’s divisions, the aforementioned Liga Elite Masculina and Liga Elite Femenina. For youth, it is much easier and more common to become involved in the inline version of the game, as you’d expect. I’ve always found it much easier to come by information regarding Spain’s inline league than LN, which goes to show its prominence.
Ultimately, it’s the Spanish hospitality and willingness to share their passion and open up that makes these leagues appealing. It comes down to location, location, location! Yes, you could experience the same at Liga Fútbol match or an open-air restaurant in Barcelona, Madrid or San Sebastían, but if hockey is your thing and you find yourself traveling in Spain, know there’s an arena out there waiting for you to come inside, enjoy the game, be it on ice or a court, and enjoy the inviting culture this beautiful country has to offer.
Stay tuned for next week’s instalment, who knows where we’ll end up…