National Hockey League
The Latino presence in the NHL is rather underrepresented when looking at the other three major sports in the United States. An obvious reason for this small presence is the lack of cold weather and ice in Latin American countries. Hockey is primarily a regional sport in the United States. The Northeast and Midwest are the traditional hotsports for the sport. With the U.S. Latino population centered primarily in non-traditional places of interest, hockey has never had the opportunity to catch on until the last ten to fiften years.
Throughout the 1990s, the NHL tried to spark intrest in its sport by expanding the league to regions where hockey had no solid fanbase. Places like Tampa Bay, Miami, Nashville, Dallas, and Phoenix became home to NHL franchises. Some argue this was an over-zealous effort, which might have been a factor in the lockout and cancellation of the entire 2004-05 season. With no solid fanbase established, owners lost millions of dollars trying to keep their teams competitive in a now talent-saturated league. Owners became powerless as they agreed to pay sky rocketing salaries for star players, which they could not afford for long. Soon, individual team revenues could not keep up with the inflated market which caused many teams to operate at a loss. (2)
The NHL finally agreed to a collective barganing agreement and opened the 2005-06 season on schedule. With a now solvent finanical plan, the NHL might be able to market hockey to the American Southwest and Southeast--spurring a new level of Latino participation in the sport of Hockey. Yet, it is obvious the lockout badly damaged the marketing opportunity toward Latinos.
For a closer look at the lockout: USA TODAY
Goaltender Al Montoya at the University of Michigan
Montoya at the 2004 NHL Draft
Al Montoya became the 6th overall draft pick in the 2004 NHL Draft and the highest Latino draft pick to ever enter the NHL. He will become the first ever Cuban-American to play in the National Hockey League. Montoya's mother Irina Silva left Cuba with her parents and settled in the Miami. A Chicago native, Montoya was a three-year starter here at the University of Michigan where he led the team to a post-season birth in the NCAA tournament each year and a spot in the 2003 NCAA Frozen Four.
He decided to forgo his senior year at Michigan in order to pursue his career as a highly touted New York Rangers draft pick. In New York, Montoya will challenge for playing time as the starting goalie on one of the NHL's most storied franchises.
Gomez with the Stanley Cup in 2000
As an Alaska native, Scott Gomez grew up in an atmosphere conducive to hockey. Cold weather and ice are synomous with the state known as the Last Frontier. But, Gomez also carries the notoriety of being Mexican American and the first Latino to ever play in the NHL. Gomez is also the first Alaska native to score in the National Hockey League. Not known for being outspoken for his Latino heritage, Gomez makes his presence known on the ice--garnering the 2000 Calder Memorial Trophy as the rookie of the year.
Gomez's father (Mexican) and his mother (Colombian), are both immigrants whom met one another in Anchorage, Alaska at a dance held for Latino immigrants. His Latino background never was an issue growing up in Alaska, where he blended in as a typical American youth. He admits that he knows little Spanish since his parents could never decide which dialect to speak in the household. "My mom and dad were always fighting about which dialect was best when we spoke at home. I couldn't decide which one I was going to use." (4)
His career with the Devils has seen immense success as he contributed to two Stanley Cup championships in 2000 and 2003. With this early acclaim, Gomez sees himself as a role model for Latino youths who don't necessarily have the same exposure to hockey like he did as a boy in Alaska.