‘Las Chicas’ make history with ice hockey gold
By Philip Painter
Special to The STAR
At the latest Amerigol LATAM Cup last weekend in Coral Springs, Fla., Puerto Rico’s pioneering women’s ice hockey team shocked the field, winning gold in their first international tournament by going undefeated.
Team Puerto Rico overpowered Chile, Lebanon, Mexico and Colombia in games that featured comebacks, last-second goals and even an old-school hockey fight.
“We were on a mission,” said team captain Jazmine Miley, holding the LATAM Cup with a Puerto Rico flag over her shoulders after the finals win. “There were times we fell behind late in the game, but we never panicked, we kept the pressure on.”
Puerto Rico won two games with goals scored in the last minute.
The team even overcame the misfortune of their uniforms not being delivered to the rink on time for their first game.
“We stayed up the night before our opener in our hotel, stenciling PR on the front and our numbers on the back of our blank practice sweaters,” forward Jocelyn Modl said. “It was like arts and crafts at summer camp -- we really got to bond, and could feel the magic of what was happening.”
The magic seemed to work, as Puerto Rico blew out Chile 7-3 in the opener. The jerseys did arrive later in the day, but they took their first team photo in the homemades.
“I wouldn’t trade those memories for anything,” goalie Juliana Rogers saidå. “We knew we had the magic.”
Rogers also had the talent as she stopped all 34 shots in the final against Colombia for the gold. Forwards Karly Aguilar Aguirre and Liana Vázquez provided the offense in a 2-0 victory.
HockeyTV broadcaster Jason Torres, from Ponce, called the win the best Puerto Rico sports moment since Monica Puig won tennis gold at the Rio Olympics in 2016.
“If Puerto Rico didn’t know they had ice hockey teams, they will now!” he said.
The Puerto Rico men’s team held up their end of the deal as well. The Division 1 team took silver in a hard-fought 5-1 loss to Colombia, and the Division 2 team manhandled Venezuela 6-1 in the bronze medal game.
The three medals have elevated Puerto Rico from seventh to third among 12 countries in the overall Latin American standings, trailing only Colombia and Mexico. Both of those countries have larger programs – and a few years’ head start in international competitions.
The 2021 LATAM Cup was a big next step for Puerto Rico as Hockey Puerto Rico is waiting to complete renovations at the Aguadilla facility, and get more access to ice at the Coliseo de Puerto Rico in San Juan when the venue lays ice for ice shows, while continuing to promote the sport via street hockey clinics at local schools.
Torres concurred that “the time to strike the iron is now, working with the DRD [the island Recreation and Sports Department] and COPUR [the Puerto Rico Olympic Committee] has always been important for our growth.”
“More sports in Puerto Rico is a dream that goes back to Roberto Clemente’s ‘Sports City’ agenda.”