|National federation||Royal Belgian Ice Hockey Federation|
|IIHF since||December 8, 1908 (founding member)|
|Top league||Belgian Hockey League|
|Current champion||Phantoms Antwerp|
Belgium is a country in Western Europe. Brussels is the capital and largest city.
|BeNe League||2015||-||Joint Dutch-Belgian competition|
|Belgian Hockey League||1912||-||Top-tier national competition|
|Belgian National League||1975||-||Second-tier national competition|
|Belgian Division II||2009||Defunct third-tier national competition|
|Belgian Cup||1986||-||National cup competition|
|Belgian junior competitions||-||Various junior competitions|
|Belgian Women's Hockey League||-||Top-level women's competition|
History of hockey in Belgium
Belgium has a long hockey tradition and is one of the founding IIHF members. Their first artificial ice rink opened under the supervision of King Leopold II on December 26, 1895 in Brussels and was named Pôle Nord. It was quite a luxurious ice rink, surrounded by fancy dining tables. Ice hockey was introduced to Belgium by the Canadian figure skater and great hockey propagator, George Meagher, in 1899. On December 17, 1903 the first Belgian ice hockey club was founded - Fédération des Patineurs de Belgique (FPB).
The first games against international opponents came on March 4 and 5, 1905 when Fédération des Patineurs de Belgique (Belgium) played two games against Club des Patineurs de Paris of France. The Belgian team won both games, 3-0 and 4-2 with captain Ernest Renard scoring all goals for his team. The French team was captained by Louis Magnus who a couple of years later would become the first president of the IIHF.
The historic Belgian squad looked like this: Goalie: M. Simon. Defensemen: Louis De Smeth and Carle Backvis. Forwards: Ernest Renard (Captain), Albert Gomrée and Henri Daniëls.
Belgian club teams played in various tournaments around Europe shortly after that. The first appearance was on home ice in Brussels and the arena Pôle Nord where George Meagher organized a tournament that was held between March 10-19, 1906. Fédération des Patineurs de Belgique (FPB) and Club des Patineurs de Bruxelles (CPB) were the two Belgian teams that participated.
FPB lost 20-1 to the French team Club des Patineurs de Paris and CPB lost 18-2 to the same French team. It was a good learning experience for the Belgian players. One year later (March 2 and 3, 1907) the CPB and FPB teams got a visit from the most successful British team, Princes Ice Hockey Club. Once again the Belgian squads got a valuable lesson from the British team. CPB lost 12-1 and FPB fell 17-0.
Three teams existed in Brussels by 1908, Fédération des Patineurs de Belgique, Brussels IHSC, and Club des Patineurs de Bruxelles. These clubs joined the UBSSA (Union Belge de Sociétés des Sports Athlétiques), which was the association that represented Belgium at the inaugural LIHG (IIHF) meeting and joined the federation.
The Belgian National Team played its first international hockey game against their neighbours from France in 1906 and beat them 6-2. Belgium finished third during the first two European Championship tournaments in 1910 and 1911. Then at the 1913 European Championships held in Munich (Germany) the Belgian team went on to win. They finished with the same amount of points as the Czechs whom they tied 4-4, but Belgium won because of a better goal difference. Maurice Deprez was the leading scorer on the team.
In 1911 a second artificial ice rink opened in Saint-Sauveur, Brussels. It measured 56 x 13 m (174 x 42 feet). Hockey was considered an elegant sport and only the rich were able to afford to play. It was common for the players to play in long trousers, white elegant shirts and bow-ties during the early years.
The UBSSA was banned from the LIHG in 1911. Brussels IHSC, captained by a young lawyer, Henri Van den Bulcke, replaced them in the organization. Van den Bulcke, an important personality in early Belgian hockey, formed a new governing body, the Belgian Ice Hockey Federation (BIJF) in 1912. He later went on to serve two terms as LIHG president (1912-1914 and 1914-1920).
The Belgian Championship was played for the first time in 1912 when the country's most decorated club ever, Brussels IHSC won. Leading the charge that first season were the Toronto born Jarvis brothers (Aemilius and William). Brussels IHSC went on to win a Belgian record 23 titles, the last coming in 1982.
Club des Patineurs de Bruxelles won the first of three consecutive league titles in 1914. The championship was not played between 1915 and 1919 (World War I), so their latter two titles came in 1920 and 1921. The Brussels rinks had all shut down by 1923, so the hotbed of Belgian hockey shifted to Antwerp. Le Puck d'Anvers was the eminent team during the mid-1920s, winning five consecutive championships between 1924 and 1929.
Belgian hockey was pretty strong until around 1935, when the quality of the sport in the country dropped considerably. The 1920 Olympic ice hockey tournament was played at Ijspaleis (Palais de Glace) in Antwerp. Winnipeg Falcons won the gold for Canada. Belgium only played in one game as the tournament utilized a bizarre double-elimination format, losing 8-0 to Sweden.
The last successful tournament that Belgium played was the 1927 European Championships in Vienna (Austria) where they finished second behind Austria. In that tournament they had the MVP, Willy Kreitz. Two other good players was Pierre van Reyschoot and goalie Hector Chotteau. All three were an integral part of Belgian ice hockey in the 1920s and 30s. A humorous anecdote from the tournament was that Belgium won the Fair Play Cup for fewest penalty minutes, a trophy the local Sportwereld described as the "beauty contest prize". Something definitely got lost in translation.
Between the 1920s and the 1950s one of Belgium's most popular players represented Belgium. His name was Joseph (Jef) Lekens. He was a very good overall athlete becoming the Belgian track and field champ at 1500 meters and 200 meters hurdles. He represented Belgium between 1929 and 1955, and was still one of the better Belgian players at the age of 44. His life later took a turn for the worse and he eventually died penniless.
Another player worth mentioning was the goalie from Brussels Henri Heirman who had a long and fine career on the national team that lasted for 22 years (1939-1961) until he decided to retire at the age of 41.
The development of the sport was further curtailed after a fire destroyed the Palais de Glace in 1928. The 1929 championship was staged on a frozen pond in Brussels, and after that, no national championship was arranged again until 1934.
Three new rinks opened in Brussels between 1933 and 1935: Saint Sauveur, La Glacière and Pôle Nord. Belgian Olympian and businessman, Martial van Schelle, became owner of two ice rinks in Brussels between 1933 and 1935, remaining the proprietor until he was arrested by the Nazis on January 15, 1943. Taken away to Breendonk concentration camp, Van Schelle was executed by shooting on March 15, 1943.
January 29, 1939 was a memorable day in Belgian hockey. 21,000 spectators jammed the recently-opened Sportpalais Merksem to see their local heroes the Antwerp All-Stars lose to the future Canadian World Champions the Trail Smoke Eaters 7-0. That crowd stood as a European record for many years. A new rink also opened in Liege that year. It was home to Cercle des Patineurs Liègois, Standard Liege, and Etoile du Sud.
After a run of dominance by the Antwerp clubs, Le Puck and Cercle des Patineurs Anversoises, the Brussels teams regained their hegemony of the Belgian league, with Cercle des Sports d’Hiver de Bruxelles and Brussels IHSC winning every championship held between 1937 and 1948. Brabo IHC, who had a large number of Canadian expats on their roster, won the championship four times between 1950 and 1954.
Paul Loicq was a fairly important figure in Belgian hockey. He represented Belgium at numerous international events during the early years. He became a very wealthy lawyer and a successful businessman and was the fourth president of the IIHF between 1922-1947. He was elected to the presidency 19 times and was the first European to be inducted into the Hockey Hall Of Fame back in 1961.
In Belgium's last A-Pool appearance 1950 they finished in 7th place out of 9 teams. They were trounced by Canada 0-33 and Switzerland 3-24 before winning their two consolation games 8-1 against France and 4-2 against Netherlands.
Belgium then took a five year hiatus from international play before coming back to finish last in the B-Pool in 1955. There was also internal conflict at the time between the Belgische Wintersporten Verbond (BWV) and the BIJF. The two associations wound up merging. After 1955 Belgium showed up on the international scene only six times in 22 years finishing last in the C-Pool every time (1961, 1963, 1970, 1971, and 1975) until avoiding the last place in 1977, finishing second to last. During these seven tournaments dating back to 1955 Belgium played a total of 39 games, losing 38 of them. The only win came in 1977 against Spain (7-6) the total goal difference in these 39 games was an embarrassing 69-584.That's only 1.76 goals scored per game and 14.97 goals against per game. These numbers say it all.
It also must be noted that this was against competition playing in the lowly C-Pool. Probably the best Belgian player during this era was Jacques Moris. He played in four World Championships during the 1950s and 1960s and is considered one of the best players Belgium has produced in the post-war era. His son Bob went on to have a stellar career in the 1970s and 1980s (both for the national team and in the league) and later his son Bob Jr. was one of the best players in Belgium before an injury stopped his career. The Moris family certainly have a great tradition. Three generations of Moris have been dominant in Belgian hockey, a rare feat in any sport.
The ice rinks in Brussels and Liege were closed in 1952, leaving only two teams in the national championship and Antwerp as the sole locale with an ice rink. The facilities later reopened and Cercle des Patineurs Liègois became the dominant team during the early 1960s, winning five out of six championships held between 1960 and 1965.
The club had a strong constituency of Canadian expats and also had success in international competitions, winning the International Cup (1960s-1970s) in 1967 and 1975. Games involving CPL were heated affairs and one Dutch international said, "Wherever Liege played there was blood." The club's home games were well-attended.
Belgium experienced an ice rink boom in the 1960s. Prime Minister Paul Van den Boeynants formally opened the Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe rink in Brussels in 1965. Brussels IHSC, which had been inactive since 1962, was revived out of this facility. Other new rinks and clubs also sprung up. Some notable teams included CSI Charleroi, OMSI Montignies, the La Louvière Super Wolves, Phantoms Antwerp, HYC Herentals, Olympia Heist op den Berg, Ice Choppers Gullegem, and Pingouins Jambes.
The Royal Belgian Ice Hockey Federation (the "Royal" prefix can be added to an association name after 50 years in existence in Belgium) became independent from the combined winter sport association in 1977.
More facilities opened in the 1980s. In Wiljrik, the site of a new rink, a club known as the Antarctica Pirates was formed. Teams were also founded in Turnhout (White Caps Turnhout and Geel (Griffoens Geel).
Olympia Heist op den Berg won the national championship for seven straight years from 1983 to 1989. The last title of any kind for the venerable Brussels Royal IHSC club was a cup victory in 1992 (when they were known as the Brussels Tigers).
In 1995 there was no winner declared in the Belgian league. Before the playoffs was to begin there was a protest filed against Herentals that they used too many foreigners on their team. Herentals lost their playoff spot, but filed a counter protest and the matter went to court. The RBIHF finally decided that there wouldn't be any champion declared for 1995.
Belgian hockey today has economical problems since nobody is willing to put any money into The sport, and the interest is very poor with attendance rarely topping 500 for league games. When the Belgian cup final is played, between 1500-2000 people show up. One team in the Belgian league even played its home games on an outdoor rink well into the 1990s.
The national team has enjoyed limited success since returning to the international scene in 1987 following a nine-year hiatus (1978-1986). They have played exclusively in the lower pools but haven't played in the lowest tier (now Division III) since 2000.
The best modern Belgian player and one of the best ever is Antwerp-born defenseman Mike Pellegrims (born in 1968). He was the "poster boy" in Belgian hockey during the 1990’s and at the start of the new millennium. Another Belgian profile is Tim Vos, a hard hitting defenseman who many times has been the heart and soul of the national team.
The first Belgian player to play professionally in North America was Mickey Jurynec (born in Genk). He was a right winger who as a 22-year old played for the Columbus Chill in the IHL 1972-73. The only Belgian-born player to make it to the NHL is Jan Benda. His parents were Czech and he learned hockey abroad. Benda played nine games for the Washington Capitals in 1997-98.
The women's national team made its debut at the Women's World Championships in 2000. Their best result was third in Division III in 2003.
Women's hockey actually has surprisingly deep roots in Belgium. It was one of the first countries to stage a women's national championship in 1913-14. Brussels IHSC won and Madeleine de Suerck was the top scorer. Another women's team of distinction was CSHB, which began play in 1935.
Special thanks to Patrick H. for supplying information on this country.