Andorra, a small country located between Spain and France. A country in the middle of The Eastern Pyrenees Mountain Range and has Catalan as their official language. A country that is looking to break through into the IIHF ice hockey tournaments and proudly fly their flag alongside hockey giants.
The country joined IIHF in 1995, more than 20 years ago. Despite that, the country hasn’t been represented nationally until 2017, where they got to host the inaugural edition of The Development Cup in 2017. The country hasn’t been sitting back for all those years. There have been many challenges that the country has faced to try to make ice hockey in the country a reality.
“For a country small like ours, we don’t have our own league,” said Andorra Forward Gerard Avila Fitzsimons. “To have two full teams, we usually have a team from Spain or France to fill in the spots needed.”
Their sole ice rink is located Canillo, a small town located in the northeast area of the nation. Unlike most countries in The Development Cup, Andorra does have a perfectly-sized rink that can be used. But the arena does not have the proper glass that goes around the entire ice rink. The other issue for the country is that there is no league in place in the country at the moment.
Fitzsimons says that there are plans to bring a full league to the country. “Last year during the COVID-19 pandemic, we tried to make a league. We got around 60 adults and divided the league into four teams,” he said. “This year, we have six teams with players from France and Spain, and our two teams which make it eight teams. We are right now at the stage of making it more professional.”
Another issue the country is facing is a vast majority of the population going abroad to attend college or university. The country does have a college, but doesn’t offer as many courses for the population’s needs. This means that Andorra has a lack of young adults who would be able to keep in touch with the sport and help to grow it locally. Even Fitzsimons wasn’t able to stay at home during his college years, which made it challenging to help develop the sport he loves so dearly.
However, since the country has started going to every instalment of The Development Cup, many opportunities have started to pop up. The country has a chance to be represented nationally for the first time, and has given some sort of press locally to the option of hockey.
Since there are so many mountains, the country’s popular winter sport is skiing. However, with an ice rink finally developed and accessible, figure skating has started to become more popular. Now, because of a national team being able to play yearly, there is a real opportunity to grow the sport.
“At this tournament, we want the recognition back here at home,” Fitzsimons said. “Especially seeing that we are developing the sport and giving kids a choice in a sport, even with our limited resources, to see what we can achieve.”
And their continued work in developing the sport paid off this year at the 2022 Development Cup in Fussen, Germany. Up until this year, Andorra has never won an international hockey game. In this year’s rendition of the tournament, they got their first tie against Ireland in a 6-6 game. But the tie wasn’t their best result, as at their next match against Portugal, they won by a demanding 12-0 final.
Despite the hardships, the country is looking to continue the development of ice hockey. Soon enough, Andorra will be added into the regular IIHF tournaments. Until then, there is a road ahead for the group developing the sport, and the end game is up to them.