Armenian Hockey: Something Has to Be Said

Armenia is still a small country in the eyes of the international sports community. Yes, it is strong in chess, weightlifting, and wrestling, did well in European competitions in those sports, and was represented at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing and the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. The Armenian national football team is also doing well and looks to be on the right track to qualifying for the 2012 European Cup competition. Armenia’s sports reputation, it seems, is improving.

The Armenian hockey team

Then, there’s the Armenia national hockey team. Yes, Armenia has a national hockey team that plays on the international stage. Shocking, right?

A member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) since 1999, Armenia, who plays in Division III, the lowest division of international hockey, has a long way to go if they want to join teams like Sweden, Russia, and Canada in Division I and play in the Olympics.

Currently ranked 49th out of 49 teams, Armenia has had more than a few difficulties that has kept it from competing in games and tournaments. In 2003, the team wasn’t able to play in the D-III World Championship tournament, held in New Zealand, after failing to secure visas to enter the country. In the 2004 and 2005 D-III World Championship, the team finished last both times; it lost the 2005 game to team Mexico with an unimaginable score of 48-0. In 2006, Armenia won its first two games in team history by defeating Ireland and Luxembourg, raising the team’s confidence heading into 2007.

Yet, for unknown reasons, it once again missed out on the World Championship in Bosnia and Herzegovina, although it was registered to compete.

During the games in 2005-06, the IIHF, suspicious about the citizenship of Armenia’s players, conducted a thorough investigation. Armenia, it turned out, had submitted falsified documents about its Armenian American players, stating they had applied for or held Armenian citizenship. They didn’t, which meant Armenia was playing ineligible players. The team was immediately put on probation.

Having not played an official game since 2006, it was a bit shocking they were selected to host the 2010 D-III World Championships in Yerevan’s Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concert Complex.

“The ice rink at the Karen Demirchyan Sports and Concert Complex has enabled us to hold games in Armenia,” said Hayk Jaghatspanyan, the current president of the Armenian Ice Hockey Federation, in an interview just before the tournament.

To prepare, most of the players trained together—not in Armenia but in the United States. “Fourteen team members and I live and train in Los Angeles where I have at least three training sessions a week with a first-class coach. If we can get [in Armenia] appropriate ice hockey gear and coaches, we are ready to train in Armenia and develop this sport here,” said Manuk Balian, a 30-year-old veteran of the Armenian team, in an interview before the start of the World Championship.

In a warm-up game on April 12 in Yerevan, Armenia took on Georgia and beat them 22-1, giving the team a much-needed boost heading into the tournament.

Once the championship was underway, Armenia’s players showed their training had paid off by running through the competition, first beating South Africa, 9-2, then North Korea in a close match, 7-6, and then finishing their qualifying games on April 17, crushing Mongolia, 15-0.

Undefeated, the team found themselves playing North Korea—this time, for the gold medal and a promotion into Division II. It seemed Armenia was out to prove that it was better than a last-place team, and was going to quickly move up the international rankings.

Its fellow countrymen began to show an interest in the sport, although they still needed to learn the game. (Numerous stories came out of Armenia about spectators heading out of the arena after the second period because they didn’t know that, unlike football, hockey has three periods, instead of two halves.)

On the ice, during the gold medal game, Armenia played well, scoring two goals. North Korea, however, scored five goals and defeated Armenia by three goals to capture the gold medal and an automatic promotion.

Not even expected to win a game, Armenia finished with a silver medal. But the good feeling for the team and country quickly turned into sour grapes.

In the weeks following the tournament, the IIHF permanently suspended the team from all international play, said its games in the World Championship did not count, and stripped the team of its silver medals.

Armenia was suspended for the same reason it was put on probation in the first place: It had played with ineligible American Armenian players who neither possessed dual citizenship papers, nor had applied for dual citizenship. (The Armenian Federation had sent papers to the IIHF stating that they had.)

Perhaps the IIHF officials were tipped off after hearing the players talk to each other on the ice in perfect English.

A proud move up for another Armenian national team thus took a huge blow backwards, with no timeframe for when the IIHF will reinstate it.

For Armenian Americans to play for Armenia—legally—they must simply apply for dual-citizenship. (The rules were changed after the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan, after Swedish player, Ulf Samuelsson, who played for the Swedish National team from 1984 to 2000, was ruled ineligible because he had applied for U.S. citizenship while still in possession of his Swedish passport. It was later found out by the IIHF that most of the international players participating at the 1998 Winter Olympics—from Sweden, Russia, Canada, and the Czech Republic—had either applied or obtained U.S. citizenship.)

A word of caution, however, for any American Armenian hockey player thinking of taking advantage of this new rule and playing for Armenia, once the team’s reinstated: Once a player plays for an international team, s/he cannot play for another national team, ever. So, if an American Armenian plays for Armenia, s/he cannot change his mind and then play for the U.S.

Armenia, with help, can create a strong program. They have the passion and will to succeed. They cannot, however, continue to play with Americans who do not possess the proper Armenian documents. And they cannot compete without monetary support, proper equipment, and a top-of-the line ice rink. Supporting a full ice hockey program on the international stage is expensive, with equipment costing $2,000-3,000 per player on the lowest scale, and the costs associated with maintaining and operating a hockey rink. The Federation is actively seeking sponsorship as we speak. To support the Armenian hockey team, visit their website, www.armenianhockey.com.

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Antranig Dereyan

Born and raised in New Jersey, Antranig Dereyan graduated from Rowan University with a bachelor’s in journalism. He contributes frequently to the Armenian Weekly with sports pieces. He also freelances for other online sites and newspapers.

15 Comments

  1. One would think that the players and Armenian hockey federation already knew that the players must be Armenian citizens.  Odd that after the first time it happened they didn’t choose to ensure all their players were at least citizens of Armenia.  In other sports Armenians from the Diaspora who play for Armenia on the international level have gotten duel citizenship.

  2. Thanks  Dear Antranig,
    Very informative details, since it happened twice I suspect the players are willing to hold on to their chances to play for USA, now the question is if they still are allowed to do so and playing twice for Armenia in international games hasn’t diminished that chance too?

  3. To answer your question about if the players who played for Armenia can play for the US.
    The players who have chosen to play for Armenia, never really had a chance to play for the US team, which is composed of all NHL players.
    The Americans playing for or who have played for Armenia, don’t play in the NHL, though, some players do play minor league hockey, whether in American, Canada or other international leagues around the world.
    Ruining their chances of playing for the US National Team, was never really a concern for the Armenian American players.
    Almost to note, Zach Bogosian, who plays for the Atlanta Thrashers, in the NHL, hasn’t publicly stated if he would play for Armenia, though, in my opinion, he would lean towards playing for the US, which, if he can remain injury free, is close to being selected for.
     
    Hope this answers your question

  4. This is my favor game where people play way north…this game required a lot of talent and self steam and self discipline and practice, practice and practice…hockey won’t be easy for Armenian team..they need proper equipments proper trainers and and proper coaches and also team should be financed by some organizations or private funds…they should promote few teams in Armenia where they can play and improve their skill…they should get opportunities travel to North America or Russia and play friendly games with local clubs, this is the only way that Armenia will improve their skill level and hope few of them will get drafted by NHL, like Russian players, where 20 years ago there were none, now they have many many skilled Russian players, drafted by NHL…this is a good news to hear from Armenia and their involvement…I hope Mr Boghosian, who is the only Armenian background NHL player can give advise and support to our young Armenian hockey players!! By the way dear Andranik I am die hard fan of my favor team Montreal Cnandiens!!

  5. Dear author,
    The Karen Demirchyan sport complex wasn’t built in 2008 and it isn’t named after the late founding president of the federation who was Karen Khachatryan and I think died a couple of years ago. Demirchyan was a politician who was assassinated in 1999.

  6. Hey Mr. Dereyan,
    Thanks for a really informative article. As an Armenian-Canadian I love reading about hockey. Do you happen to know if Zach Kassian, the captain of Canada’s World Junior Hockey Team, is of Armenian descent?
     
    Thanks

  7. To Alex
     
    There are conflicting reports by different websites about Kassian. Some stating that he is of Armenian descent and other saying he is only Canadian.
     
    So, I am still trying to fully research Kassian’s story myself, but, I am leaning towards him being Armenian, until I am 100% sure that he isn’t.
     

  8. Unfortunately, getting citizenship is not the only requirement to play for a national team, and this is where the Armenian federation had problems:
    A player with dual citizenship has to prove that he or she played two consecutive seasons in the country they represent, without playing anywhere else during that time.  In the case of Armenia, the players may have had dual citizenship (or not, in some cases), and there were reports that some may (or may not) have played parts of two seasons in Armenia for two years.  This would be proven by a valid International Transfer Card showing that the player had moved fulltime to the other country.
    However, there was undeniable proof that those players were playing in the United States as well (whether college club hockey, high school hockey or elsewhere).  Whether ITCs were filed at all was thus put into question.

  9. I find it disappointing that there are so many factual errors in this article. I will give you a few examples.

    1. Armenian players had proper documentation(passports/citizenship), the issue that created a problem was the fact that some of them had not played the required amount of seasons in Armenia. The passports off all the players are checked before they take the ice.
    2. A player can change national teams as long as they follow the protocols of the IIHF. An example of such a case is Peter Stasny.
    3. A full set of men’s hockey gear can be acquired for a lot less than 2,000 dollars.  
    4. The 2007 DIV III World Championship was held in Dundalk, Ireland not Bosnia.
    5. The 2008 WC Qualifiers were held in Bosnia and the Armenian Team participated.
    6. No investigation was carried out in 05-06 in regards to Armenian player documents. If that was the case Armenia would not have been allowed to register for the tournament in Ireland in 07, or Bosnia in 08. Any issues with the IIHF occurred after the ’08 qualifiers.

  10. A few other facts to take into consideration

    1. Zach Bogosian has already represented the United States
    2. Not all of the players that play for Team USA at the World Championships are NHL players.

  11. No offense but players who are good enough to play for the US team aren’t even slightly interested in playing for team Armenia. Im Armenian and live in canada im only quarter though (my dad is half armenian half italian). If I got dual citizenship could I try out? Does anyone know the level comparable these guys are. If MEXICO beat them 48-0 im assuming very low. I cant imagine team Mexico even beating a Jr C. Team from Canada.

  12. Most of the Mexican National Team play in the US or Canada. Quite a few of them played for Canadian College programs. So I think they would do well against a JR C Team from Canada.

  13. I’ve been part of Team Armenia since 2004 and I can tell you all of our players had Armenian Passports. We were cleared to play but once out team started winning games against “good” teams, those “good” teams didn’t like the outcome so they cried wolf to the IIHF and the IIHF bent over backwards for them… period. Other teams assumed it was going to be like Mexico where they got easy points but that wasn’t the case and they didn’t like it. Sports are just like politics; whoever is stronger or more popular is going to get away with anything,

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