|National federation||Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation|
|IIHF since||July 25, 1960|
|Top league||Bulgarian Hockey League|
|Current champion||HC CSKA Sofia|
Bulgaria is a country in southeast Europe. Sofia is the capital and largest city.
|Bulgarian Cup||1927||1934||Defunct national competition|
|Cup of BSIHF||1935||1943||Defunct national competition|
|Championship on the Occasion of the V Congress of BCP||1949||1949||Defunct national competition|
|Metropolitan Championship||1950||1951||Defunct national competition|
|Bulgarian Hockey League||1952||-||Top-level national competition|
|Bulgarian Cup||1954||-||National cup competition|
|Bulgarian Amateur League||2006||2007||Defunct second-level competition|
|Balkan League||2007||-||Multi-national second-level competition|
|Bulgarian Hockey League - Group B||1975||1990||Defunct second-level competition|
|Bulgarian junior competitions||-||Various junior competitions|
|Bulgarian Women's Hockey League||-||Top-level women's competition|
History of hockey in Bulgaria
Prince Alexander Battenberg I, head of the third Bulgarian Kingdom (1879-1886), was responsible for opening the country's first ice rink just outside of Sofia in the 1880s. The history of hockey in Bulgaria goes back to 1927, when the first tournament was organized. Various tournaments of different names were held over the years, and the national championship (Bulgarian Hockey League) was first contested in 1951-52. The Bulgarian Cup has been contested yearly since 1954.
For the first six years, the league championship was played on natural ice up in the Rila mountains, about 75 miles south of Sofia. The games were played pretty high up, at an altitude of about 1.4 miles above sea level. Not until 1959 did Bulgaria get its first artificial ice rink. The rink was in Sofia and the name of the rink was Druzjba ice stadion. It was an outdoor rink with a capacity of 5000.
The Bulgarian National Team made its international debut on January 17, 1942, defeating Yugoslavia 4-2. Four years later, in 1946, the Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation was founded. Bulgaria did not join the IIHF until 1960.
The golden years of Bulgarian hockey were the 1960s and 1970s. Numerous league games were sold out, with 5000 spectators on hand to watch, and the national team also enjoyed a fair amount of success.
In 1969 the first imports came to the Bulgarian league. This was of course made to make the league even more competitive. Three Czechs played for Akademik Sofia and two Russians for Metalurg Pernik. The idea of imported players faded pretty quickly and not until 20 years later did imports show up in the league again. It was Levski and Slavia Sofia who during the 1989-90 season had a total of seven Russians on their teams (four in Levski and three in Slavia). Since then some of the teams have had several Russians on their rosters.
Bulgaria made its debut at the World Championships in 1963, finishing fourth in Group C. Bulgaria did pretty well in the tournament beating Belgium 7-3 and tying the Netherlands 3-3. In their second appearance in 1967, Bulgaria surprisingly finished second behind Japan in the C-Pool World Championships in Vienna (Austria). They beat France 3-2 and Holland 10-3.
In 1970 Bulgaria played in the B-Pool in Bucharest (Romania) but finished last. The second time they managed to play in the B-Pool was in 1976 in Biel and Arau (Switzerland). Two more times have the team played in the B-Pool (1992 & 93). The rest of the years Bulgaria have played in the C-Pool. A big profile in Bulgarian hockey between the 1960s and the 1980s was 5'9" goalie Atanas Iliev who was pretty spectacular in goal at times. He made his debut for Bulgaria during the 1969 C-Pool World Championships and was in goal for Bulgaria until 1982 when he was 39 years old.
In 1975 Bulgaria (Sofia) was the host for the C-Pool World Champonships. Bulgaria managed to finish in second place and qualify for the B-Pool. In the final against Norway (2-2), almost 8000 people jammed the Slavia Ice Stadium, which at that time was a Bulgarian record for a hockey game. The offensive catalysts of that team was Ivan Atanasov who finished third in scoring with 8+4 in 6 games and Martin Batchvarov who finished fourth with 8+2. Bulgaria played qualification games for the Olympic games in 1976 and lost all of them. Worth noting is that in the game against Czechoslovakia, which Bulgaria lost 14-1, their only goal was scored by the Czech-born (Prague) forward Martin Batchvarov.
During the 1980s Bulgaria's best finish came in 1986 when they finished in third place in the C-Pool World Championship that was played in Puigcerda (Spain). They had 11 "rookies" on the team who made their first international appearance. Goalie Konstantin Mikhailov played in his second World Championship tournament and went on to play many more tournaments with his twin brother Boris Mikhailov (not to be confused with the old Soviet star player).
The state of both the national team and the league declined significantly in the 1990s. The nadir was a seventh place finish at the 1997 D Pool. Bulgaria tied for second in Group 2, tied with Yugoslavia, whose goal difference was 11-11 versus Bulgaria's 10-10 which meant that Yugoslavia made it to the final group thanks to having scored one more goal than Bulgaria. The Bulgarians were very disappointed by losing this way and lost their focus. They even trashed their hotel rooms after a "booze party". All that alcohol created some embarrassing moments for the Bulgarian staff.
Bulgaria has mostly played at the Division II (formerly Pool C) level since 2000. They were relegated to Division III after the 2013 tournament but promptly earned promotion after winning the lower-tiered competition.
In 2006-07 only three teams played in the league championship. Slavia, Akademika and Levski Sofia. In the end only two teams finished it after a game got out of hand between Akademika and Slavia. A huge brawl and an awful referee made Slavia drop out of the Championship. Akademika, who won their second consecutive championship, was accused of playing dirty. The Slavia team had Canadian goalie Rick Nichol, a real globetrotter who has also played in Serbia, Spain and Turkey.
Overall the three most successful teams are by far CSKA, Slavia, and Levski Sofia, with 24, 21, and 13 championships, respectively. CSKA won three straight titles from 2013 to 2015. Their 2013 championship was the first since 1986.
Some of the best Bulgarian players through the years includes goalies Konstantin Mikhailov, Ivailo Assenov and Atanas Iliev and other players such as Emil Damev, Martin and Stoyan Batchvarov, Valentin and Michail Dimov, Boris Mikhailov, Milcho Nenov, Georgi Iliev, Dimitri Lazarov, Zlatko Zinoviev and Ventzislav Venev.
The women's national team made its international debut in 2008 at the 2010 Winter Olympics Pre-Qualification tournament. They lost one of the games to Slovakia by a score of 82:0, a record for margin of defeat in international women's hockey. They participated in the Women's World Championships for the first time in 2011, playing in Division V, which has held in Sofia. They finished in third place in the tournament, defeating Turkey and Ireland. Since 2013, the women have played in the Division IIB qualification tournament.
The Junior national team first participated in the IIHF World U20 Championships in 1983, finishing second in Pool C. In 1985, they won Pool C, and were promoted to Pool B in 1986. Their stay at that level lasted only one year, as they were relegated back to Pool C, and have played in the lower pools since 1987.
Special thanks to Patrick H. for supplying information on this country.