Haiek scored in double overtime to give Argentina a 3-2 win over Greece Heritage HC in the 2023 Amerigol LATAM Cup Division I Men’s Championship at the Florida Panthers IceDen on Sunday.
“I passed out when I scored,” said Haiek, the striker and Argentina captain. “I just celebrated. I couldn’t believe it.”
Haiek’s goal brought smiles and tears to his father, Dicky Haiek, Argentina coach and founder of the Argentine Ice and Inline Hockey Association.
“Son, this is crazy, so crazy, my feeling is so…I have no words for it,” Dicky said. “He’s great. He’s amazing. He’s a great man and a good person.”
Dicky said winning the LATAM Cup helps ease the pain Argentina suffered when they lost to Liechtenstein in the IIHF Development Cup, a tournament for emerging hockey nations, in Bratislava, Russia. Slovakia, in May.
“We lost by one goal (6-5),” he said. “So it’s important for us. Our government will help us more because we have results. It’s very good for the development and growth of our hockey.”
Owen added that Sunday’s win is a testament to his father’s passion and vision for hockey in Argentina and Latin America.
“He basically brought hockey to Argentina,” Owen said.
Greece Heritage HC entered the LATAM Cup with a mission beyond winning the tournament.
Like the Latin American and Caribbean teams participating in the tournament, the team, made up mostly of Greek Americans and Canadians, was trying to raise the profile of ice hockey in Greece.
Greece has been a member of the IIHF since 1987 and currently has associate member status, but has not participated in an IIHF World Championship (Division III) since 2013.
“I’m incredibly proud of our guys. We left it all behind,” said Greek Heritage HC coach Anastasios Kirkos, who is a former Chicago public relations manager in the AHL. “But hats off to Argentina. They played a very good game and they are a very classy team, very respectful.”
Ahead of Sunday’s game, Greek Heritage HC received words of encouragement on Instagram from current and former NHL players of Greek descent, including the Chicago Blackhawks forward. Andreas AthanasiouHockey Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Chelios and former NHL forward Chris Kontos.
“It got the boys excited before the game,” Kirkos said. “We’re just looking to find some inspiration and make that connection with these guys, because that connection hasn’t always been there with Greek hockey in the past.”
The LATAM Cup brought together more than 750 players representing 21 countries and territories, including Argentina, Armenia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Egypt, Israel, Lebanon, Mexico and Venezuela, as well as teams composed of players of Caribbean and Central American origin. .
The teams competed in six divisions: men’s divisions I and II, a women’s division, and groups U-12, U-14 and U-16.
The NHL and the Florida Panthers were among the sponsors of the tournament, which was founded in 2018 by longtime Panthers fan Juan Carlos Otero to help grow the sport within the Hispanic community, both internationally and locally.
Most of the countries and territories that have participated in the LATAM Cup aspire to play hockey on the world stage, but do not have ice rinks or suitable ice facilities that meet IIHF regulations, which would allow them to participate. in sanctioned tournaments or to qualify for the Olympic Games.
The hope is that the visibility gained after winning or participating in the LATAM Cup will inspire sports federations, Olympic committees or private investors in each country or territory to support ice hockey, mainly by building ice rinks.
“Our government will help more because we have results,” said Dicky Haiek. “It’s very good for the development and growth of our hockey.”
Argentina’s U-16 side also won their division on Sunday by beating Chile 7-3 in the final.
“I think it’s the most important because it’s the future,” Dicky said. “Young people are the future of our Division I players. Argentinian hockey continues to grow. I’m very happy.”
Brazil also put in a solid performance at the tournament. His U-12 team won their division by beating Venezuela 5-4 in double overtime on Saturday. The U-14s followed that up by winning their division with a 4-2 win over the Hockey Players of Color on Sunday morning.
In the women’s division, the Caribbean, a team made up of a mix of players with family ties to the islands and territories in that region, beat Colombia 8-1.
Armenia, a team made up largely of Armenian Americans and Canadians, beat Venezuela 7-1 in the men’s Division II final.
Armenia, which was making its LATAM Cup debut, has been an associate member of the IIHF since 1999, although the sport is still developing in the country, according to coach Raffi Vartazarmian.
“We are obviously expats representing a developing country at the moment,” he said. “Bringing Armenians here is a bit more difficult, but we are doing it on their behalf.
“When kids see the great things happening here, it will encourage them to grow and become better at a sport we all love.”
Photos: Courtesy of BC Photography, Aubrey Corkum