Q&A With Argentinian National Team Player Tomas Abrate

Q&A With Argentinian National Team Player Tomas Abrate

Steven Ellis07 Jul 2016Steven Ellis»
 

Steven Ellis talked to Argentinian hockey player Tomas Abrate about his past, the Pan-Am Ice Hockey Games and the future of hockey in Argentina.

 
 
 
 

If you talk to the average NHL fan, they'll likely tell you, despite recent advancements, that Arizona is not a hockey state. The Phoenix Coyotes have struggled to survive in recent years, and the fan base has never been as strong as once hoped. But in comparison, Buenos Aires, Argentina is an even more obscure hockey area, and Arizona is a top rate area instead.

Tomás Abrate has lived in both places, and he's had some success in the sport along the way. Among other achievements, Abrate played Division II NCAA hockey with the University of Notre Dame. But just recently, the young player managed to represent his country, Argentina, at the Pan-American Ice Hockey Games in Mexico City, Mexico. He took the time to answer questions about playing at the tournament and the future of hockey in the country.

SE) Give some background about yourself (your hockey story, where you play hockey during the year, what you do for a job, whatever you want people to know).

TA) I was born in Buenos Aires but moved to Phoenix, Arizona when I was three. I was fortunate enough to play most of my hockey in the Jr. Coyotes hockey program. Simultaneously, I represented Brophy College Preparatory at the high school level. During my midget years, I had several opportunities to move up north and play in the BCHL, but I had always done well academically and decided to go to college. I ended up at Notre Dame where I was fortunate enough to skate with some very talented players and eventually represent the Irish as part of the then D2 club hockey team. Now, I play in a men’s league in Scottsdale and try my best to keep up with guys like Ray Whitney and Steve Sullivan a couple times a week.

SE) How did you find out about the Pan-American Ice Hockey Games in the first place?

TA)  My family makes frequent trips down to Argentina to visit family and about eight years ago I heard that there were a couple of very small ice rinks in the country. I did a bit of research, found that there was hockey being played, and brought my gear down on a trip. I would eventually reconnect with some of the same players I played with then with at this year’s tournament.

The Pan-American Hockey Tournament is a different story, as I had no clue that Argentina had a national team. I was scrolling through my twitter feed one day about a year ago and saw your (Steven Ellis) coverage of the tournament. After further research and some emails, I was able to reach out to Hector Ianicelli, president of the Argentine delegation, and submit my candidacy.

SE) How did the process go to get named to the team?

TA)  I was fortunate that our delegation sent two men’s teams this year and was told I would be placed on a team based on my pre-tournament practices. I also had a highlight video from college that I sent to our coach, Dicky Haiek. After a couple of scrimmages, I was lucky enough to be placed on our ‘A’ team.

What I thought would be the most difficult part of the tournament would be assimilating into a team of players that mostly knew each other. I cannot describe how quickly I was embraced by the hockey family. To show up and be received like a brother was one of the most moving experiences of my life.

SE) To those who don't know about hockey in Argentina, what is the program like?

TA)  It would be difficult for me to explain the program down there accurately, as I have never played consistently in Argentina. What I can explain to people from more established hockey countries is this: the people who play in hockey in Argentina are as passionate about the game as anyone I have ever met. The love that we have for the game is the exact same. Argentine hockey players go to extraordinary lengths to get gear, to get ice, to practice, and to improve. Playing hockey is much more difficult for them than it will ever be for an American or Canadian kid. They still play. For love of the game.

SE) You obviously told friends and family that you were going to play in the tournament. What was their reaction like?

TA)  Overwhelming support. My mother, father, and little sister were absolutely instrumental in making my tournament experience a success. Luckily, my dad was able to accompany me down to Mexico to what ended up being a very emotional homecoming.

The outpouring of support from my friends was also incredible. Everything from people I had not heard from in years reaching out to my men’s league teammates offering to be naturalized and join me. Friends and teammates from high school and college tuned in to watch the games online and cheer me on. I am incredibly thankful for all the people who sent me so much love and support in the lead-up and during the tournament itself.

SE) What was it like playing hockey over in Mexico, a place where many people don't know the sport exists?

TA)  It was definitely different but also a lot of fun. Seeing the ingrowth and development of hockey in a country like Mexico definitely shows what countries like Brazil and Argentina can begin to aspire to here in the near future as the sport continues to grow.

The level of play is also higher than you would expect. I have been fortunate enough to play with and against some very talented individuals and teams and considering the relative lack of resources hockey has in these countries, the development of many of the players is impressive.

SE) A few years ago, Canadian forward Logan Delaney said the tournament was more about the sport than winning. Would you say the same?

TA)  As competitive as I am, I would have to agree with Logan. This tournament does a phenomenal job of illustrating the state of the sport in the respective countries and pushing the growth of the hockey as a whole. Hopefully, future iterations of the tournament will see increased participation and better and better teams.

SE) Any specific interesting stories from the tournament?

TA)  I would be remiss if I did not include this story that I think hockey players anywhere can relate to. On the eve of the tournament opener, one of our top minute munching defensemen and assistant captain, Kevin Aviñon, was ruled out with a broken foot. You know those moments when a team rallies around an injured player to make his presence felt on the ice? That. You were out there with us, brother.

SE) You didn't win a medal, but would you say Argentina's two teams still had a good showing? 

TA)  Absolutely. Argentina has a relatively small infrastructure compared to the other countries at the tournament and showed that despite its limitations will always battle for sixty minutes. What this tournament established for Argentine Hockey is not achieved through results but through the continued development of a national hockey culture, mindset, style of play, and passion. I don’t care what the results say, this program will continue to grow and continue to compete. We’ve shown we can compete. Now, we will push ourselves to take the next step, to grow, and to win.

SE) Do you plan on going back next year?

TA)  If I am fortunate enough to be called upon, I will never turn down an opportunity to play for Argentina.

SE) In your opinion, what are the next steps for hockey in Argentina?

TA)  I think the next step is one that is already happening. Continue to spread the passion for the game and to teach kids about how beautiful it is to play this sport. Hopefully we can get enough traction to put a full size rink down there soon.

SE) How do young kids get involved in the sport there?

TA)  Most of the small ice rinks have some sort of hockey school where kids are able to play without having to buy the gear. This has been huge as the cost of (and ability to get) equipment can be bit prohibitive.

SE) Anything else you want to share or get across?

TA)  I just wanted to thank everyone involved with the tournament. Being able to share this passion for the game with people from all around the world has been a tremendous privilege. I hope we can continue to grow the sport and develop our respective programs together.

Lastly, I want to thank the boys from my team. Can’t explain how much I miss you guys. I don’t care how long it takes, we are going to win this damn thing.

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