San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Castillo Knights Shoot …Score! for Hockey in C.R.

The gifts keep coming for Bruce Callow and his legion of Castillo Knights.

Fourteen years ago, Canadian Bruce Callow started a program to encourage youths to learn and play ice hockey in tropical Costa Rica. This year, the Canadian government and the National Hockey League recognized Callow and his Castillo Knights for their efforts.

“It’s a nice thing for all the families – all the parents, the kids – to feel like they’re a part of something bigger,” said Callow, who grew up in Calgary, Alberta. “Hockey in Costa Rica doesn’t really have a big base of support. So this is a big moment.”

Callow said his job is to keep the sport alive here. Each year, he has about 15 Costa Rican hockey players, ages 7 to 20, who learn the game at the El Castillo Country Club in San Rafael de Heredia, north of San José.

In an April ceremony at Canadian Ambassador Neil Reeder’s residence in San José, Callow was commended for his “dedication to building Costa Rica’s only youth ice hockey program” with a certificate signed by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“For the past 14 years, this successful program has provided the youth of Costa Rica with the opportunity to experience the joy of Canada’s national pastime and the world’s greatest sport,” the certificate reads.

In addition, the NHL Players’ Association last month donated $7,500 worth of hockey equipment – 15 sets that include pads, sticks and helmets – to the Castillo Knights.

Another person who has recently taken notice is Henry Núñez, president of the Costa Rican National Olympic Committee.

Although hockey may be a long way from becoming an Olympic sport this close to the equator, Núñez told Callow he’d like to get involved in creating a base where kids can learn hockey and figure skating.

Callow’s current goal is enabling the kids to play in a larger rink. He would like to double the size of the rink at the country club. An expanded rink would allow for more competitive games and make it possible to have more kids practicing.

Most of the Knights are teenagers looking to find a niche sport in soccer-crazed Costa Rica. “Everybody is supposed to be into soccer here,” Callow said. “If you’re not like that, you’re kind of an outcast. We found out there are kids who love hockey – it must be genetic.”

At practices, an intriguing form of Spanglish can be heard. Players mix their Spanish with shouted hockey terms such as “puck,” “check” and “faceoff.”

The club has started hosting games against the BritishSchool and roller hockey squads around the Central Valley. Callow said he would like to put together a travel team eventually.

He said strong hockey programs exist in other parts of Latin America, such as Mexico and Argentina. He hopes Costa Rica can join them soon.

“I think hockey is really going global, to be honest,” Callow said.

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