Like many who get their start in hockey, Chris Torres was hanging out with his brother when they went to go see a friend play.
What else is there to do when you are a 4-year-old learning about the world?
Chris Torres’ life changed that day, as he fell in love with the game immediately.
“I was wondering where he was going. I just tagged along,” Torres said. “At this time, he was already 14 and they were hitting. I thought it was so cool that on these little, thin blades, and they were hitting each other and shooting these pucks, going real quick. After that, my mom put me in Learn to Skate and then it just took off from there.”
Torres is now 16 years old, a junior at Fountain Inn High School in South Carolina and an aspiring hockey player.
In fact, his parents’ roots have opened unexpected playing opportunities for Torres.
Torres was born in the U.S. after his parents moved from Puerto Rico to Atlanta in 2005. In 2021, one of Torres’ teammates with the Carolina Rage youth hockey program — who was also of Puerto Rican descent — reached out and invited him to participate in a camp.
“I didn’t know Puerto Rico had a national team,” Torres recalled.
In fact, Puerto Rico’s national hockey program didn’t begin until 2019 and only joined the International Ice Hockey Federation in 2022.
Torres followed the team’s Instagram account and then the team contacted him and sorted through his parents’ birth certificates to make sure he was qualified to be a member of the team.
Once that was settled, Torres participated at an evaluation camp in Chicago in May 2022. Based on his performance there, he was selected to play for Puerto Rico’s 16U team at the Amerigol LATAM Cup in Coral Springs, Florida, in September 2022.
The tournament, which began in 2019 and where Puerto Rico played its first unofficial games, serves as a showcase for nontraditional hockey countries, mainly in Latin America and South America, but also including others such as Egypt, Greece and Armenia. Argentina won the 2023 tournament with a 3-2 victory over Greece Heritage HC in double overtime.
Torres explained it was a surreal moment when he got to put on that Puerto Rico sweater before his first game.
“It was definitely exciting, but it was more than hockey,” Torres said. “It was representing a nation, these people cheering you on, it's just different. Everyone treats you like family. Everyone's speaking Spanish, but it's more just representing an island. I just loved to do it for my family and the people of Puerto Rico.”
Torres’ mom was a bit more sentimental about seeing her son in Puerto Rico’s red, white and blue colors.
“When we saw him with the uniform and they started [playing] the national anthem, I'm telling you, I was bawling tears,” Lissy Torres said. “The emotion to see those boys singing the national anthem, this is something very, very touching.”
She said grandparents, aunts and uncles down in Puerto Rico were tuned in to his games.
In five games at the LATAM Cup, Torres registered two assists. The experience has inspired Torres to do more for Puerto Rico hockey. He said there are a lot of people who play roller hockey on the island, which doesn’t really have any sheets of ice. To play ice hockey, players have to go to a different country.
“People love it,” Torres said. “You got Puerto Rican people, when we were up in New York, they flew to New York just to watch our games to see what hockey was about. Mostly, I just want to grow the game in Puerto Rico. I want to bring the game that I love because a lot of these kids aren't as fortunate to have this amazing sport that we have here. Just show the kids what hockey is and the passion I have for it – I want them to have the same passion as well.”
Torres, who is in his first season with the Greenville Road Warriors youth hockey program in South Carolina, has since been placed on a Puerto Rican developmental team. He hopes to continue to represent the country in other competitions. While he has never been to Puerto Rico, Torres hopes to help the country build its program.
“I just mainly want to bring hockey to the island,” Torres said. “They should have the chance to play ice hockey. It's not every day a kid gets to put on a pair of skates like we do here in the States. We’re very fortunate here. I just want the kids over there to enjoy it as much as we do.”
Torres’ mom explains there is value to kids playing hockey off the ice as well. She points to Torres keeping track of his various practices and other activities on a calendar, being more disciplined with his schoolwork and being a team player outside of sports.
Hockey has taught him the importance of giving back to his roots.
“I can tell that hockey for Chris is a great tool to be a great person with great character,” Lissy Torres said. “Since he was 4 years old, I had the opportunity to see him in all the stages. Hockey's a great sport for kids to grow as a person, as a player, as an athlete and in the way that he handles his daily responsibilities.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Hispanic Heritage Month takes place Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 every year as a time to recognize and celebrate the many contributions, diverse cultures, and extensive histories of the American Latino community. To learn more about Hispanic Heritage Month visit, https://www.hispanicheritagemonth.gov/