Published January 22, 2013
Raffi Torres grew up like any other Latino.
Mexican food cooked by his mother, piñatas on birthdays, playing soccer with his father.
But there’s a big difference between Torres and most Latinos. Torres was born and raised in Toronto, Canada, and is probably the most prominent Latino hockey player in the National Hockey League.
“It’s always been a lifelong dream to play in the NHL,” Torres told Fox News Latino. “Growing up, my father always wanted me to play soccer but I ended up moving toward hockey.”
The son of a Mexican father and Peruvian mother, Torres’ family plight is similar to many others in the immigrant community.
“My parents came to Canada for a better opportunity,” said Torres. “I grew up with my parents always speaking Spanish to us. We were always eating Mexican food.”
Torres, 31, was drafted by the New York Islanders in the 2000 NHL Draft. He played for five teams in the NHL before signing with the Phoenix Coyotes, where he made an impact last season before a controversial suspension left him unable to play during Phoenix’s Western Conference Finals run.
“I’ve pretty much said what I’m going to say about it, I’m just trying to move on and focus on this season,” said Torres.
Torres was suspended last season during the first round of the playoffs for 25 games, later reduced to 21, after he hit Chicago Blackhawks player Marian Hossa in the head. He was suspended for the rest of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the suspension remains for the first eight games of this season.
He said he is considering changing his style of play due to last season’s suspension. “I have to at least consider it,” said Torres.
While Torres is NHL's most prominent Latino, he's not the only one.
Goaltender Al Montoya is currently a backup for the Winnipeg Jets and is of Cuban descent; Alec Martinez, of the defending champion Los Angeles Kings, is of Spanish ancestry; and Scott Gomez, probably the most decorated Latino NHL player, was recently released from the Montreal Canadiens.
All three players were born in the U.S.
The fact that there aren’t many Latinos in the NHL put Torres at the forefront in a satirical bit on “The Daily Show” many years ago, as an example of Mexican immigrants taking North American jobs.
“It was pretty funny,” said Torres. “It was all in good fun.”
The NHL’s Latino viewership make up about 10 percent of its total audience.
Torres’ heritage has come in handy with the Phoenix market. He told Fox News Latino that he’s done some local media that is specific to the Latino community — but when it comes to the NHL, he said, there hasn’t been much Latino outreach.
“I’m always willing to do stuff for the community,” Torres said. "I let them know that, but I’m just going to go about my business.”
The NHL said it has worked closely with Torres to make hockey a sport for everyone.
"The NHL, through its NHL Diversity and Hockey is for Everyone grassroots initiatives, has worked closely with Raffi Torres since he was a top prospect heading into the 2000 NHL Draft and throughout his career, helping lead hockey clinics and other community outreach programming," NHL spokeswoman Nirva Milord said in a statement. "We look forward to his continued involvement in our ongoing efforts to grow the game."
As for his heritage being fodder for his teammates and opposing NHL players, “a lot of guys throw in a little jabs here and there, but nothing I want to share with the media. It’s all just joking.”
Follow Victor Garcia on Twitter @MrVicGarcia.