Jamaica “Too Strong” to Defend LATAM Trophy in Florida October 14-17

By Patrick Green

Jamaicans in the US, particularly those in South Florida, will get another chance to see their Ice Hockey Team parade its skills, at the 2021 LATAM trophy championship, between October 14 and 17th at the Florida Panthers Ice Den in Coral Springs.

Jamaica is the defending champions, after defeating Columbia, Mexico, Argentina and Brazil in 2019 to secure top honors.  There was no competition last year.

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In a startling turn of events, according to the Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation, the team will not play to defend their championship.  They said the organizers and other teams have refused to play, stating that the team “was too strong to compete against.”  This was revealed by tournament organizer president, Juan Carlos Otero, when the Jamaica team submitted its roster of 20 players, stated a release from the Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation.   “Otero said that Jamaica has too much of an advantage over the other teams and was likely to blow away all the opposition and make them reluctant to want to come back next year,” said the release.   Jamaica will instead play in an exhibition capacity, giving the other teams a chance at glory in the tournament.

Objection to New Jamaican Players

According to Don Anderson, President of the Jamaica Olympic Ice Hockey Federation, “when the team was sent to Otero a week ago, he objected to 9 new players that we included in the list, on the grounds that these had played senior level ice hockey and would make Jamaica a mismatch against all the other teams.  This despite the fact that there were no clear guidelines with regard to player qualification.”  Anderson said a compromise was reached and Otero initially accepted 5 of these players, leaving Jamaica with 17 players, three short of the desired team size.

Anderson continued: “By Wednesday, Otero came back to advise that the other teams were opposed to playing even a reduced Jamaica team because it was still too strong, and that Mexico in particular would withdraw its four teams rather than compete against Jamaica.  He then proposed that Jamaica play only as an exhibition team, for no points and hence would not be defending the trophy.  At that point the Jamaican management decided we would rather withdraw the team than allow Otero to determine the make-up of the team.”

However, following a round robin of the players, the coach Chris Stewart, a recently retired NHL star of Jamaican parentage, the players reluctantly agreed to participate in an exhibition capacity.   The players felt that it would represent an opportunity for them to play together for the first time and to build the team chemistry.  Jamaica will now play six games instead of the original four, including one feature match against an All-Star team, comprising the best of the other teams.

Yes to Roster, Initially

When contacted, Otero admitted to Caribbean National Weekly that he did say yes initially but on receiving the updated list, he felt that the roster was still way above the strength of other competitors.

In a post on their website, The Amerigol International Hockey Association, organizer of the championship said that: “At this time we want to acknowledge and say ‘THANK YOU’ to the Jamaican Olympic Ice Hockey Federation for their agreement to compete in exhibition games only and forfeit their eligibility to play for the LATAM Cup Championship. We have the upmost respect to the JOIHF for agreeing to this.”

The post went on to say: “We are excited to give all six Division I teams the opportunity to play against team Jamaica in exhibition games throughout the weekend. We know this will allow every Div I team the chance to showcase their skills against the defending champions and a very strong team.”

Amateur Competition

In defending his decision to omit Jamaica from championship play, Otero told Caribbean National Weekly that the tournament is an amateur competition, and while he is happy that Jamaica has advanced their program so well, they would not give the other teams any chance of winning.

“Our goal with the Tournament is to provide players an opportunity to represent their country in an exciting and competitively balanced tournament. Players who play professionally or represent professional leagues possess higher skills than what is available from the participating countries.  We want to give everyone an equal opportunity.”  He went to say that if the if Jamaica was playing the same level players as in 2019, he nor the other teams would not object to them defending their championship.

Mr. Anderson said that plans are now being put in place for the team to enter three tournaments next year as part of the thrust to build the quality of this team and give us a chance to compete in higher level qualifying events leading eventually to Olympic games participation.  “It is unlikely that the LATAM cup will be part of this program,” he stated.

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