Three weeks have passed since the hockey community learned in a Facebook announcement by the organizers, that “Macedonia will be replaced by Portugal” in the upcoming Development Cup 2022 in Füssen/Germany. Some question aroused since then, but no official statements were made, neither by the organizer nor by the Macedonian Hockey Federation. So we tried to find out what is going on. Did Macedonia withdraw as defending champion of the tournament or was Macedonia outcasted. It seems to be the latter.
We tried to get some answers, honestly, we did not contacted the organizers, two guys from Morocco and Ireland who are the heads of the tournament. The only one willing to answer some questions was Zoranco Griovski, former captain of the national inline hockey team, actual manager of the national ice hockey team and also stand by player. He also raised up near the venue, Füssen. But, he was not able or willed to answer us all questions in detail. Short summary, Macedonia was kicked out of the tournament. “We do not understand the decision of the organizers” was his first short answer in the chat.
As he explained, the organizers seem to had complaints about the roster of Team Macedonia. They did not accept the team entry long list. “They told us, that our two top scorers of the past tournament in 2018 are not allowed to play this years tournament”.
It was not hard to figure out, that these two players are Jure Stopar and Dimitrij Prokudin, both playing for Macedonia already for years. Both deep involved in the development of Macedonian hockey. Jure more or less acted as player-coach during the Development Cup 2018. Dimitrij was for years the youth coach in Skopje, he was teaching some of the players in the Macedonian roster.
As he told further, the long list was already provided last year in autumn, as the DC should have been played in October 2021 but was postponed due Covid restrictions. “Shortly before the tournament would happen, we were told this, as we were already finishing preparations for the tournament”.
According to him, the most same roster was on the entry list as 2018, in addition of some young players. After the decision of the two tournament heads, Macedonia made objection and requested insight in the other teams long entry lists. The request was denied. “We asked for transparency, but we were denied. We learned, not only in 2018, that some of the other teams have even players without citizenship, who were regarded as eligible”. In contrary, all Macedonians players have citizenship and are playing already for years for the team, except the younger boys who are newcomers and would have made their debut, he added.
As he told us, the rule regarding the team rosters for the Development Cup is as following:
“Team rosters must be comprised of, at least, 80% IIHF eligible players. Of the 20% or less non-eligible players, an explanation as to the necessity of their participation will be required. Development Cup organizers will review all non-eligible player submissions and inform teams if they are eligible to participate by a specific date.”
It seems, that there was no “specific date” as mentioned in the rules, as Macedonia was already announced as part of the competitors at the 2022 Development Cup. In addition, his opinion is, that Macedonia fulfills this criteria. “We got only the information that these two players are not allowed to participate, our opinion is, that the whole long entry list is in shape of this 20% mark”. How much players were actually on the list, we could not find out.
“We wanted to check if the other teams do fulfill this criteria, but our request was denied, and shortly after this discussion we literally got kicked out per email by one of the organizers. It was already mid March and our preparing and plannings were already ongoing, in fact were mostly completed. We purchased tickets for our players living outside Macedonia, organized camp, booked ice time before the DC and so on, even deposit for the participation was paid and it was announced that Macedonia is part of the Cup. We are not a Pro-Team, so all players took off from their work duties, it was shocking news for them”.
A hard decision for a small country like Macedonia, after winning the Development Cup 2018 there was a boom going on in the country. Everyone in Macedonia suddenly heard about the team and the success, because of huge media coverage – what never happened before in Macedonia. The players started also a campaign “we need a hockey arena”, as the actual venue is a half open rink and only functional four months a year/season. Than, Covid followed and Macedonia was “hit open ice” for the first time, as ice time was cut to zero minutes. And silence appeared around the rink and Macedonian hockey in general.
It was the first appearance for Macedonia 2018 in November in the second edition of the DC, ice time in Skopje was available only after the tournament.”Half of our team went into the Cup with just two ice times. I guess we could have played better this year as the Cup is scheduled after our season, and not before. So all players had ice times about 4 months.”
Our final question regarding this issue was: what now? “We don’t know. In fact this tournament is a private initiated tournament, we like to support the idea for a competition for non-eligible national teams for the IIHF World Championships. 2018 they gained support by the IIHF and especially from German hockey federation (DEB), who is sponsoring the venue. We will think about this after the tournament. There must be changes in the structure, so we look forward that the IIHF gets more involved in the organization as well in decision making. There is no directors board of the tournament, all decisions are made by two guys (not to say, by their own goodwill). I will also express to the DEB my concerns about this, and I hope that they will get more involved in the organization, as they have the professional know-how. I know this and I am aware of this, because I raised up near the venue, which in fact is the Federal base for ice hockey and curling in Germany. A top address in the hockey world”.
The 2022 development Cup will be held May 4-7. The teams competing are: Algeria, Andorra, Colombia, Ireland, Liechtenstein, and Portugal replacing now outcasted Macedonia.
Our ultimate final question when we chatted with Zoran was: what do you think, who will win the cup? “Honestly, I do not know much about the teams and players from oversea and Africa, but I think Liechtenstein will make the win. They have a good roster with experienced and young players. I wish all the teams and the organizers a successful tournament, seeing forward that we will meet on the ice hopefully next year”.