Al Montoya, Hispanic hockey players, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, Raffi Torres, Raphael Diaz, San Jose Sharks, Scott Gomez, St. Louis Blues
Editor’s note: This story was initially posted in September 2013 and continues to receive hundreds of views per month. So I’ve updated information on the whereabouts of some of the players in the 2015-16 season.
I recently realized that I haven’t fully done my job here at the Color of Hockey when a colleague of mine complimented me about the blog, marveled at the number of black players in professional hockey and the impact they’re having, and wondered if there are any Hispanic players in the National Hockey League.
Not only are there Hispanic players in the NHL, several are thriving. Some have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup; some have played for their respective countries in the Winter Olympics; some have had uneven careers.
And similar to the growing group of black NHL players, more Hispanic players are heading to the league – a testament to hockey’s popularity and a legacy to minority-oriented youth hockey programs across the United States and Canada.
And hockey isn’t strange to Spanish-speaking nations. Spain is ranked 31st in the world in men’s hockey and 26th in women’s hockey by the International Ice Hockey Federation. The European nation has 521 junior players, 197 male players, 205 female players and 18 indoor ice skating rinks, according to the IIHF.
Mexico’s men’s team is 32nd in IIHF’s rankings and its women’s squad is ranked 35th in the world. The United States’ southern neighbor boasts nearly 2,020 players – 243 men, 1,427 juniors, and 350 women and girls. The country has 20 indoor ice skating rinks – more than some cities and states in the U.S.
So to answer my friend Franco’s question, let’s give some love to the NHL’s Hispanic players.
Ottawa Senators center Scott Gomez carries a double dose of pride. He’s proud of his Mexican-Colombian heritage and equally proud of being a native Alaskan.
“You know, growing up in Anchorage, it wasn’t like ‘There’s Scott Gomez, the Mexican hockey player,'” he told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2000. “It was, you know, Scott Gomez, the hockey player. People started making a big deal about it as I got older.”
He played with the ECHL’s Alaska Aces during last year’s NHL labor lockout. Through his Scotty Gomez Hockey Association, Gomez gave back to his community recently by having the association take over operating the Anchorage high school girls hockey program, which suffered from poor participation.
“Girls hockey is back,” Carlos Gomez, Scott’s father, told The Anchorage Daily News recently. “Whether it survives is up to the girls and the community.”
Scott Gomez was selected with the 27th pick of the 1998 NHL Draft by the New Jersey Devils. He joined the Devils in the 1999-2000 season and scored 19 goals and 51 assists, good enough to win the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s top rookie player. He helped power the Devils to the Stanley Cup in 2000 by scoring 10 points during the playoffs and Cup final.
He won another Stanley Cup with the Devils in 2003, scoring three goals and nine assists in 24 games during the playoffs.
Gomez played for the U.S. hockey team in the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. The team failed to medal, but Gomez scored one goal and four assists in six games.
In 2007, he signed a seven-year, $51.5 million free agent deal with the neighboring New York Rangers. He didn’t have a successful run on Broadway and the Rangers traded him to the Montreal Canadiens in January 2009. Lengthy scoring droughts dogged Gomez in Montreal and the Canadiens bought out his contract.
He signed a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks once the NHL resumed play in the
2012-2013 season. There, he scored two goals and 13 assists in 39 games. Gomez began the 2015-16 NHL season with the St. Louis Blues but signed on with the Senators in March after the Blues released him.
The 36-year-old has 1 goal and 8 assists in 34 games this season.
Like Gomez, defenseman Alec Martinez of the Los Angeles Kings has his name on the Stanley Cup. He earned the honor when the Kings won the Cup in the 2011-12 season. Of Spanish roots, Martinez was born in hockey-mad Michigan but spent most of his youth playing hockey in Northern California before playing for Miami University in Oxford, Ohio from 2005 to 2008. He was selected by the Kings with the 95th pick in the 2007 NHL Draft.
Martinez notched 10 goals and 21 assists in 78 games for the Kings this season.
Forward Raffi Torres broke into the NHL in the 2000-2001 season with the New York Islanders and he’s been scoring goals and breaking bones – including his own – with thundering hits ever since.
Torres went without a goal in his 14-game debut with the Islanders, something that has rarely happened since in his NHL career. Since entering the NHL, the well-traveled Torres has scored 134 goals, 121 assists, and a whopping 490 penalty minutes for the Islanders, Edmonton Oilers, Columbus Blue Jackets, Buffalo Sabres, Vancouver Canucks, Arizona Coyotes, and San Jose Sharks.
The 2015-16 season has been has been a difficult one for Torres. It began with a 41-game suspension for an illegal pre-season hit on Anaheim Ducks forward Jakob Silfverberg.
He was also rehabilitating from a knee injury. The Sharks sent him to its American Hockey League farm team, the San Jose Barracuda, in January for conditioning then traded him to the Toronto Maple Leafs. The 34-year-old forward hasn’t appeared in an NHL game this season.
“I just want to play,” Torres, whose contract expires this summer, told The Toronto Sun. “I want to get healthy and play. I don’t mind riding buses. I would do that. It’s a pretty good life, making a living playing hockey. I’m not ready to give it up.”
The son of Mexican and Peruvian parents, Torres grew up in Canada. Torres’ father wanted him to be a soccer player, but young Raffi gravitated towards hockey, Canada’s national pastime.
“My parents came to Canada for a better opportunity,” said Torres. “I grew up with my parents always speaking Spanish to us. We were always eating Mexican food.”
Al Montoya seemed destined to be “The One” – a Hispanic hockey superstar. After all he had the pedigree: the Cuban-American kid from Chicago was a star goaltender at the University of Michigan, where he posted a record of 30 wins, only seven losses, and three ties during the 2004-05 season.
He twice played twice for the U.S. in the International Ice Hockey Federation
World Junior Championship and backstopped the U.S. squad to a Gold Medal at the 2004 tournament in Finland.
The New York Rangers took Montoya with the sixth pick in the first round of the 2004 NHL Draft. Montoya post good numbers with the Hartford Wolf Pack, the Rangers’ AHL farm team. He was 64-34-4 with Hartford in three AHL seasons.
But his path to Madison Square Garden was blocked by the rise of all-world Swedish goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, who the Rangers took with the 205th pick in the 2000 draft.
In 2008, the Rangers traded Montoya to the Arizona Coyotes, where he posted a 3-1 record in five games. After a stint with the San Antonio Rampage, Arizona’s AHL team, Montoya was traded to the New York Islanders in the 2010-11 season. He won nine games for the lackluster Isles that year. More important, he posted a sparkling .921 save percentage.
In the 2012-13 season, Montoya signed with the Winnipeg Jets where he want 3-1-1 in seven games and settled in nicely as the backup goaltender to Ondrej Pavelec. Feeling like he’s finally found a home, Montoya happily re-upped with team for the 2013-14 season.
“I really enjoyed my time last year,” Montoya said after re-signing in April. “This is a good group, it’s a good team and we came so close last year. The city is great, my family likes it and I think this team is moving in the right direction.”
But then South Florida came calling and Montoya signed with the Florida Panthers in the 2014-15 season. So far this season, Montoya has posted a 12-6 record with a 2.13 goals-against average serving as Roberto Luongo’s backup.
When you hear the name Raphael Diaz, the last things that you probably think of are the Alps and fondue. But Diaz, a defenseman with the Canadiens, hails from Switzerland. His mother is Swiss, his father a Spaniard.
“I visited my family in Corunna, which is in the northwest region near Portugal,” Diaz told Canadiens.com last year. “The food there was amazing: tapas, paella, tortillas. I love to visit my dad’s family at least once a year.”
Diaz netted a goal and 13 assists for Montreal in a lockout-shortened 2012-13 season. The third-year defenseman represented Switzerland in the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and he’s a strong candidate to wear the Swiss red cross crest again at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
He has spent most of this season in the AHL playing for Hartford, where he’s notched 6 goals and 14 assists in 35 games for the Wolf Pack.