Jim Aldred had a pretty normal career as a hockey player. He built himself up in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs and Sault Ste. Marie [Soo] Greyhounds. He was drafted in the third round by the Buffalo Sabres in 1981. He played around in the American Hockey League and International Hockey League for some time before he got injured and had to retire.
But what is different about Aldred from other hockey players is his coaching experience. He coached a few years in the Greater Metro Hockey League before taking up the rare position of being Portugal’s national team head coach.
Aldred moved to Portugal with his wife in 2017. Because of his background in hockey, it wasn’t long before he was involved with a national team program again.
“My wife is Portuguese; my wife’s parents are born in Portugal,” Aldred explained. “When they were retiring, we decided to go on an adventure, and after three or four months, we decided to move here. Food is great, beaches are great, but I am a hockey guy and got bored, so I checked around to see if there was any kind of hockey. So, I reached out and got an opportunity to be the head coach.”
Portugal joined the IIHF in 1999, but has remained an associate member for a long time. There were games between other teams around the world, but Portugal wouldn’t be represented in a tournament against other nations until 2017 when the first Development Cup was held in Andorra.
In the three tournaments Portugal has played in The Development Cup, they have played against Andorra and Ireland in every competition so far. Even though there is hesitancy to call it a rivalry between the nations, there is a competitive nature that every team wants to win. “At the end of the day, you want to win,” Aldred explained. “That is the sport. Everyone is building each other up to develop the sport.”
Portugal has been in every version of the tournament since it started, and it remains one of the only ways the country can compete in international competition. Aldred had been the bench boss of the club in every competition, and lives in the only city that has an indoor hockey rink.
Portugal doesn’t have a regulation-sized rink and is unable to participate in the main IIHF tournaments and slot into their divisions. Elvas, a city close to the border of Spain, in home to the only rink in the country. It’s not perfect, as it’s almost a two-hour drive from Portugal’s biggest population center, Lisbon. Lisbon has a population of over two million in the metropolitan region compared to Elvas, which only has 23,000.
“You might be asking why put the rink in here? Well, we are dealing with governments and municipalities that are not interested in the sport,” Aldred said. “It’s hard to get land, or something up in a bigger population.”
Despite there being little to no recognition of ice hockey in the nation, Portugal does have a strong roller hockey presence. The country is arguably the most decorated roller hockey nation, with Spain being the only one with more gold medals in the World Skate Roller Hockey World Cup. However, Portugal has one less gold medal that Spain in the competition.
There are many ways Portugal can grow the sport. They have a lot of work to do in the coming years, but with The Development Cup on a yearly annual basis, they have some type of way to both practice and compete. With that type of leverage, their domestic and international goals can hopefully be reached.