ISBHF World Ball Hockey championships ready to roll in Quebec

23 men's and women's teams from 17 countries to compete in Laval.

by Jackie Spiegel @jackiespiegel93 / Staff Writer

While the Colorado Avalanche and Tampa Bay Lightning battle for the Stanley Cup, another hockey trophy is up for grabs in Canada. Except this one will not be won on ice. There will be no lacing of skates or playing with a puck. Instead, players will be tying a bow on a pair of sneakers and stickhandling with a ball. The International Street and Ball Hockey Federation (ISBHF) World Ball Hockey Championships will take place in Laval, Quebec starting Tuesday with some of the greatest dek hockey players and teams competing for their biggest prize. "If you want some entertainment, this is a good week to watch because you have the highest level playing," United States men's coach Cory Herschk said. "It is the closest our sport gets to being professional, watching countries compete against each other."

This year marks the 14th men's and eighth women's world championship held by the ISBHF, which wants to make ball hockey a Summer Olympics sport. After the 2021 tournament was canceled due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus, 17 countries featuring 23 men's and women's teams will compete in Canada, which plays host for the third time (2001 in Toronto; 2013 in St. John's, Newfoundland). Canada men's team general manager Daniel Medeiros knows the goal is always gold and anything short of that is a disappointment. For the past six tournaments, that is exactly how the men's team was left feeling. After winning four consecutive Group A gold medals from 2001-07 -- including 2003 and 2005 powered by former NHL player and current Montreal Canadiens assistant coach Alex Burrows -- the country has twice finished second (2011, 2017) and third (2013, 2019). Now with the 2022 edition on home soil at Place Bell from June 21-27, Medeiros said this could be the year Canada breaks through.

"We feel like we're due," he said. "I think at home, we finally have access to all the best players that we want. Sometimes when you travel overseas, there's always some people who can't make it for some reason or another. As long as we have the guys on our roster, I feel like we have a good of a chance as ever to win the tournament." One of those players is probably the most dynamic to ever play the game. Danick Martel, who was named the best forward in 2017 after finishing as the top scorer and was an all-star in 2019, is expected to play for the third time in 2022. At 5-foot-8, Martel likes to model his game after Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher and has two assists in 13 NHL games for the Philadelphia Flyers and Lightning. This season he scored 33 points (17 goals, 16 assists) in 70 regular-season games and 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in 15 playoff games for Laval of the American Hockey League, which lost 4-0 to Springfield in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final on Wednesday. The experience of playing ice hockey at the highest level comes in handy with Canada facing tough competition.

Group A includes Canada, the United States, four-time defending champion Slovakia, 2019 runner-up Finland, Armenia, Czech Republic, Greece, Haiti, Italy and the United Kingdom. Haiti, which won Group B in 2015 with former NHL forward Georges Laraque as an assistant coach, has Francis Bouillon, a former Nashville Predators and Canadiens defenseman, and Claude Vilgrain, who played for the Vancouver Canucks, New Jersey Devils and Flyers, and is the only Haiti-born NHL player, as consultants. Bouillon is a player development coach for the Canadiens. Haiti played an exhibition game at Place Bell on Sunday against NHL skaters including Bokondji Imama of the Arizona Coyotes, Mathieu Joseph of the Ottawa Senators and Pierre-Olivier Joseph of the Pittsburgh Penguins. This year, Group B includes Bermuda, France, Cayman Islands, Lebanon, Hong Kong, Pakistan and Morocco, which will be the first country from Africa to compete. Each group will crown a champion, with the bottom two teams in Group A moved into the Group B playoff bracket. "The passion these players have to play at the highest level, I mean, you take a look at some of the greatest athletes we have in the men's and women's [teams], they put on a show,

" ISBHF president George Gortsos said. "When you see the skill of hockey and the passion of representing their country, some of these games are … played with such spirit and intensity it catches your attention." On the women's side, six teams will be competing, including defending champion Canada, the United States, which has finished second the past two tournaments, Czech Republic, Slovakia, United Kingdom and newcomer Lebanon. Canada, which has won five women's world championships, will have a new coach, but not a new face to the program. Mandi Duhamel, who co-coached Calgary of the Canadian Women's Hockey League to the Clarkson Cup in 2019 and the Canada Ball Hockey Association's women's master's team to world championships in 2016 and 2018, was captain of the 2017 ISBHF World Ball Hockey Championship team that won bronze. Duhamel is senior director of business insights and industry growth at the NHL. Though she said she's "back for some vengeance" after that third-place finish, she is excited to showcase a sport that has allowed her to travel around the globe. "I had no idea that this even existed when I was a kid," Duhamel said. "We'd play street hockey, just play with my brother is how I learned, in my front yard, but to now tell my younger self that not only did you get to play in a world championship, but to lead a team and see the evolution of this game and to see younger players continuing the tradition, it does mean a ton to you.

"Anytime I get to represent this country is a big deal, and to do it with this group that I find so special, and to do it on home soil is going to be a really cool experience."