Category: Women

Canada beats U.S. to win inaugural women’s hockey Rivalry Series

Goaltender Shannon Szabados, seen at the Four Nations Cup in November, made 38 saves to help Canada to a 2-0 win over the United States in the deciding game of the inaugural Rivalry Series on Sunday in Detroit

By The Associated Press

The inaugural Rivalry Series was created to give Canada and the United States another opportunity to put the world’s best female hockey teams on the ice together.

It went so well, there likely will be a sequel.

Brianne Jenner and Blayre Turnbull scored, Shannon Szabados made 38 saves, and the Canadians beat the Americans 2-0 in front of 9,048 fans Sunday in Detroit to win the three-game series.

“It always means a lot when you play these guys and there’s no love lost on the ice, so to get a win in their barn felt pretty good,” Jenner said.

Gina Kingsbury, director of women’s national teams for Hockey Canada, declared the event was a success in every way.

“We would love to see this repeat itself every year for sure,” Kingsbury said. “It would help generate excitement about our game outside of Olympic years.”

The Canadians beat their rivals nearly a year after the U.S. won Olympic gold in a shootout thriller and a few months after it won the Four Nations Cup against them.

They will meet again in April at the world championship in Finland.

“That’s the hardest part,” Alex Rigsby said after making 15 saves for the Americans. “You come off a loss and now we have to wait another six, seven weeks until we play each other again.”

‘Thankful’ for NHL support

The top U.S. and Canadian teams have not played regularly outside of the Olympics, world championship and Four Nations Cup, but that will change if the Rivalry Series becomes an annual event.

“It fits really well with our program,” USA Hockey executive director Pat Kelleher said. “And, it’s good for us to have the NHL involved as well.”

The league supported the event that USA Hockey collaborated with Hockey Canada to conceive, making the arenas used by the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs available along with promoting the event. That likely helped an average of 8,725 spectators attend the first two games and for even more people to show up in the Motor City for a game that started at noon.

“We couldn’t be more thankful for the Red Wings and the NHL to help us out,” American forward Brianna Decker.

Fans filled almost the entire lower bowl of Little Caesars Arena where scores of girls in hockey jerseys could be seen and heard.

“There’s always more and more young girls watching and you can hear them in the crowd,” U.S. forward Dana Trivigno said. “You’re their role models and you’re what they aspiring to be. We’re just trying to create a path for them to follow and do the same thing.”

And as usual, the women helped their cause to market the game by playing highly competitive games.

The U.S. won the opener 1-0 on Tuesday in London, Ontario, and Canada evened the three-game series with a 4-3 victory Thursday in Toronto.

The Americans generated a lot of offence in the finale, especially during goal-mouth scrambles during a 21-shot second period and in the final minutes. Savannah Harmon had a goal for the Americans negated by a crease violation early in the third period when Trivigno made contact with Szabados.

“Canada plays a physical game so I was trying to get to the net and create some havoc in front,” Trivigno said. “I bumped off one Canadian and got into the goalie and couldn’t get off her quick enough. Unfortunately, that was enough to make it goaltender interference.”

NWHL all-star Mrazova’s game speaks volumes as she makes splash with Whale

A Czech national team standout at an early age, Katerina Mrazova chased her dream of playing in the United States and is turning in a whale of a rookie season in Connecticut.

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Katerina Mrazova always knew she wanted to make the leap to the United States from her home in the Czech Republic. It was her dream to play stateside. And on-ice, making the move was seamless for Mrazova, who had been a standout at a young age with the Czech national team and an alternate captain at the U18 World Junior Championship. She was a gifted offensive talent with untapped potential.

Off-ice, however, she faced a significant hurdle.

“I didn’t know English,” Mrazova, 26, said. “I couldn’t speak it at all. So, the transition to come to the U.S. was very hard. The culture wasn’t that different, but more difficult was English. I had to figure that out.”

But Mrazova wasn’t heading to North America without a plan. Following her turn at the U18s, where she was named a top-three player for the Czech side at the tournament and notched five points, all assists, in five games, she set her sights on what was then the lone professional women’s league, the CWHL, and managed to land with the Boston Blades.

On that squad, Mrazova, then just 19 and the Blades’ youngest player, skated alongside some of the game’s elite, including Hilary Knight, Meghan Duggan, Kacey Bellamy and Gigi Marvin. The experience, Mrazova said, was one of great growth. She took great strides in Boston during the 2012-13 campaign, one that saw her become the first European player to hoist the Clarkson Cup. But Mrazova’s intentions weren’t to remain in the CWHL. Rather, she had a desire to take her game to the NCAA, finding a fit at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. And it’s with the Bulldogs that Mrazova really began to round into form.

Offensively, the growth was evident. A steadily contributing freshman, Mrazova scored one goal and eight points in her first college campaign, and she saw an upturn and continued as a steady contributor through the final three years at Minnesota-Duluth. In 101 games from her sophomore to senior season, Mrazova scored 24 goals and 67 points. However, it was what the college game taught her away from the puck — and off the ice — that took her game to the next level.

“For me, I’ve always played center and (the NCAA) helped me a lot to figure out the defensive zone situations,” Mrazova said. “The systems were the most important thing that I really learned at college, and preparation for the games, how to get ready.”

With what the college game taught her, and how it rounded her out as a professional player, Mrazova’s message to her national teammates is that they should do what they can to follow in her footsteps. “I think to come to the US is the best decision I’ve ever made…When I go back to Czech, I always say to the younger players that they should come to the U.S.,” Mrazova said. “It’s the highest level, best hockey they can play.”

Playing at such a level, too, has made Mrazova’s second foray into the women’s professional ranks far more successful than her first, from a statistical standpoint. After finishing her tenure with the Bulldogs, Mrazova signed on with and has made a splash as a member of the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale. In 12 games, her six goals — the sixth-best total in the league — and 10 points put her first in team scoring. And with her team-leading point total in her back pocket, Mrazova is headed to the NWHL all-star weekend, which takes place Feb. 9-10 in Nashville. She’ll compete in the skills competition’s trick shot challenge Saturday before lining up as a part of Team Szabados in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

Once the dust settles from the all-star weekend, though, Mrazova will head back to Connecticut, where the Whale are looking to reverse their fortunes. Last in the league and nursing a league-worst minus-37 goal differential, chances are Connecticut will miss the post-season or, at best, be bounced early in the post-season. With that, Mrazova’s goals for this season have changed. While an Isobel Cup would be nice, she’s focused on the World Championships with Czech Republic. What the future holds beyond that, Mrazova doesn’t yet know.

“If I can stay in the USA to play hockey, then I want to stay for sure,” she said. “We’ll see how the situation will go. I don’t know my plans for next year or the future. It’s still open. If I can stay in the USA, or even in Connecticut, then I will.”

Bucifalova ready to shine as RDC Queen

By Danny Rode – Red Deer Advocate

Growing up in the Czech Republic Veronika Bucifalova had a dream of coming to Canada to play hockey, so when she was 15 she made a decision to leave home and join the Ontario Hockey Academy.

Because of that move she’s now a member of the RDC Queens.

“I wanted to improve my hockey as hockey at home isn’t a good level for girls,” explained the 19-year-old forward. “I had a dream of playing in Canada as Canada is the hockey place.

“And I knew how to speak English so that was nice.”

In fact she’s fluent in Czech and English and understands German, French and Russian.

“It’s awesome to speak several languages as you meet so many great people. I have friends all over the world.”

Veronika spent two years in Ontario, working on her game and finishing high school.

Last season she moved to Switzerland and joined the Neuchatal Hockey Academy.

“Mainly I wanted to take a year off and make some money,” she explained.

This year she was ready to return to Canada, although she didn’t know much about Red Deer.

However, her coach in Ontario gave her Queens head coach Kelly Coulter’s contact number and the rest is history.

“A friend of mine, through connections when I was in Grande Prairie, was coaching in Ontario and he helped make contact,” explained Coulter. “I didn’t know much about Veronika, but I’m certainly happy we made the connection.

“She’s very skilled, has a passion for the game, has an excellent attitude and is a great teammate,” said Coulter.

“She has excellent hands, has great vision and can take a pass on her forehand or backhand and make a quick pass. She also protects the puck and plays a gritty game.

“She’s already a great addition and will be for years to come.”

With a quick release Bucifalova has shown she can score, but enjoys passing.

“I love to see my teammates celebrating a goal,” she said. “It’s a great feeling when you play as a team.”

Coming up through minor hockey Veronika played goal, defence and forward.

“I think that helped as I got a complete perspective of the ice and helped me as a player,” she said. “I wanted to be a goalie, but my dad didn’t want me to.”

She does play goal for her inline team. She also plays ball hockey for the Czech national team, finishing third in the open division and second in the U20 world finals.

“It helps prepare me for hockey with the running and ball handling,” she added.

She also has experience at the world level with the Czech U18 team and women’s team. She played three years with the U18 team and the 2014-15 season with the Czech women’s team.

She first got into women’s hockey when she was 12 and even played with a men’s U18 team for a season, scoring 10 goals and 11 assists in 12 games.

“That helped me a lot in my career, but I still have a lot to learn. I’m a rookie here and will work hard to get better.”

Veronika is listed at five-foot-two and is solid on her skates.

“I say I’m fat … make fun of myself,” she said with a laugh. “But I do feel I’m strong on the puck and hard to push off it.”

In only four exhibition games you can see the skill Bucifalova brings to the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference squad.

“We already can see each other and we’re already getting better and better,” she said.

As for the competition, she’s impressed.

“I have a friend who plays at NAIT and she told me about the league. Other than that I didn’t know much about it. But it’s fast with good game plans … I didn’t expect it to be this good.”

Veronika is taking kinesiology as she “wanted to have something to do with sports and to help people.

“I hope to be here for a few years and keep pushing myself every day to get better.”

She’s also impressed with the new Gary W Harris Canada Games Centre.

“I saw pictures, but this is awesome. Much better than the facilities we have at home.”

Women’s Hockey is Growing Strong

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We’ve all heard those three little words a lot, to the point where it has started to become a somewhat monotonous mantra. We hear them sprinkled into half of the interviews we read and hear with players and league commissioners. We see the phrase everywhere on social media. Even the name of this very site was inspired by those three words.

Whether you like it or not, “grow the game” is attached to women’s hockey, and it’s not going anywhere soon.

The Global View

Women’s hockey is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. The evidence of that growth goes beyond the record-setting television audiences for gold medal games, the continued involvement of NHL teams with pro women’s teams, and the groundbreaking purchase of the NWHL’s Buffalo Beauts by Pegula Sports and Entertainment. We have the data to prove the women’s game is growing all over the world.

At the inaugural IIHF Women’s Ice Hockey Workshop in Copenhagen in July, IIHF Women’s Committee Chairwoman Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer shared that there are now nearly 200,000 women playing hockey across the world; in 2010 there were just over 170,000. That’s a growth of 17.64 percent in eight years.

Growth in the States

Thanks to USA Hockey’s public registration numbers, we have a better idea of what that growth looks like for one of women’s hockey superpowers. USA Hockey breaks down its registration numbers by gender, age group, and geography. The numbers paint a clear picture. There are more women playing hockey in the U.S. than ever before, and the numbers just keep growing.

In 2017-18 the rate of growth in USA Hockey’s women’s registrations was nearly 6.5 times greater than the growth in men’s registrations. There are still far more men than women playing hockey in the U.S. and across the world, but that is hardly surprising when we look at the big picture.

The NHL has existed for a century, whereas Title IX has only been in place in the NCAA for less than half a century. The first NCAA women’s hockey program was established at Brown University in 1965, and the National Collegiate Women’s Ice Hockey Championship began back in 2001. Even the prestigious Patty Kazmaier Award has only been around since 1998, which is the same year of the first women’s hockey tournament in the Winter Olympics.

In many ways, women’s hockey is still just getting started. But that doesn’t change the fact that this rate of growth is significant. And, if history has taught us anything, we are about to see another boom in registrations in the wake of Team USA’s gold medal victory in Pyeongchang.

After Sochi 2014

2013-14: 67, 230 female players registered

2014-15: 69,744 female players registered

After Vancouver 2010

2009-10: 61,612 female players registered

2010-11: 65,509 female players registered

After Torino 2006

2005-06: 54,162 female players registered

2006-07: 57,549 female players registered

Today, there are more than 79,355 women registered with USA Hockey. What’s even more noteworthy is the rate of growth in girls registering with USA Hockey. There are 33,236 girls 10 and under who are registered with USA Hockey. To put that number into context: there were 6,336 total female registered players in the United States in 1990.

The Next Generation

A closer look at the registration numbers — especially in youth hockey — tells us an even more promising story. USA Hockey’s numbers show that the growth of participation among girls 8 years and younger is growing at a historic rate. So, where is this growth coming from? One of the clear catalysts is the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).

Growth of boys and girls U10

The NWHL’s inaugural season took place in 2015-16. In that same season the number of girls 8 years and younger who registered with USA Hockey went from 16,539 to 18,350 — that’s a 10.9 percent rate of growth. When we compare that number to the growth rates of the previous two seasons, we can safely say that the NWHL has changed the landscape of girls hockey in the United States of America.

National Growth of girls U8

When looking at these numbers it’s important to remember that they only reflect those players who have registered and paid fees to have a membership USA Hockey. There are a lot more women — in all age groups — playing hockey in America.

The future of women’s hockey is bright not just in the United States, but across the globe. According to the IIHF, there are 86,925 female players in Canada, 6,527 female players in Finland, and 5,505 female players in Sweden. An IIHF survey from 2017 tells us that 8.54 percent of all Finnish hockey players are women; that same ratio stood at 8.61 percent in Sweden. Whereas in Canada (13.7 percent) and the United States (13.5 percent), those numbers are significantly higher. So, there is still abundant room for the game to grow, even in countries that have a strong tradition in the sport.

Beijing and Beyond

It’s hard to know just how much the game is going to grow over the next four years, but it is exciting to think about.

In addition to the expected boom in interest after Team USA’s gold medal victory in Pyeongchang, there’s also the new frontier of women’s hockey in Asia. With Beijing 2022 on the horizon, China is investing in women’s hockey on a major scale. In June 2017, China announced plans to build 750 new rinks by 2022. Little girls in China also have the opportunity to watch members of Team Canada and Team USA compete against their own CWHL team in Shenzen, the Shenzen KRS Vanke Rays. Two years ago that sentence would have been complete fiction. What fruit will all these measures to accelerate the growth of the game in China bear? We will have an answer sooner than you might think.

The world map of women’s hockey continues to grow every year. Pyeongchang’s gold medal game between Canada and the U.S. had 3.7 million viewers (streaming and broadcast numbers combined). Oh, and that game wrapped up a little after 2:00 a.m. ET.

Hockey is one of the least accessible sports in the world because of how much it costs to even learn the game, let alone play it at a competitive level. Despite that significant roadblock — which, unfortunately, is just one of many — the game is still growing strong. And it’s showing no signs of slowing down.

“Grow the game” is a mission statement and a philosophy. But it’s also a constant reminder to appreciate the movement that is happening around us, all over the world.

Clara Rozier: Forging France’s Future in Women’s Hockey

By Nathaniel Oliver – The Hockey Writers

France’s Women’s National Ice Hockey Team is in the process of creating hockey history. After winning gold at the 2018 Women’s Division IA World Championship – played on their own home soil in the town of Vaujany – the French women have been promoted to the top division in women’s hockey for the first time ever. The 2019 Women’s World Championship will be played from Apr. 4 to Apr. 14, 2019 in  Espoo, Finland. All of the big names will be there – Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden, Finland, Czech Republic and more. When France takes the ice against those countries, one of their young players will be 21-year-old Clara Rozier. She is one of the players who got France there in the first place, and rightfully so.

While France has never really been considered a “hockey hotbed”, Rozier is not only incredibly proud of what she and her teammates accomplished, but also very proud of all hockey players who have come from France and made the spotlight. Appreciating today’s current stars, her fellow countrymen hold a special place in her heart.

“Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Cristobal Huet, Antoine Roussel, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare,” Rozier rattled off some of her favorite names. “Crosby and Ovechkin because they are the best players in the world, for me. They have a lot of qualities. Crosby with his stick is very amazing – he can do everything he wants. And the others because they are French players and they played in NHL. Huet is an example. At the last World Championship (2017), he was very impressive at 40 years old!”

THW talked one on one with Rozier recently. We learned more about how she got started playing hockey and her story up until now. Perhaps more importantly, we got a sense of her aspirations for the upcoming Women’s Worlds in April 2019.

Learning the Game in France

Too often when North Americans think of France, we typically imagine only places like Paris or maybe the French Riviera locations like Cannes or Nice. We tend to overlook the more mountainous or colder climates of the country. Locations in the French Alps such as Chamonix, Grenoble and Albertville have each played host to a Winter Games. The mountain terrains also happen to be where Rozier is from, and it is where she learned to play hockey.

“I live in Morzine, a ski resort in the French Alps,” Rozier explained. “In this little town most of the children are skiing, playing ice hockey or both. I’m very happy to live in mountains! I started hockey at seven years old. Nobody in my family plays ice hockey. It was my best friend who was playing hockey and gave me the desire to play.”

However, chances to play the game in Morzine were quite sparse. The town itself has a population of not even 3,000 people, and hockey opportunities were slim, particularly for girls. Enough so that as Rozier got into her teenage years it was necessary to move to a more populated portion of the Alps. Rozier’s residence during her formative years had approximately 56,000 more residents.

“There are not a lot of opportunities to play hockey because it is a little city and they don’t have a women’ hockey team,” Rozier stated. “So I played with the boys when I was young, and at 15 years old I left Morzine for Chambéry to play with Pôle France. It is a women’ hockey team which gathers the best girls in France in sports studies. I stayed in Chambéry during five years, and this year I came back to Morzine because I’m ski instructor too. But I still play with the Pôle.”

Playing for Pôle France Féminin

The goal of Pôle France is to bring together the best female players in the country and centralize them in Chambéry. Although Crozier just entered her early 20s, she and a number of players her age have continued to play for Pôle in competitive hockey throughout France. Because France has a limited number of female players, it promotes better overall development and competition by having a team mixed with teenagers and young adults, and having them compete against younger male teams.

Crozier explained a bit more about how Pôle works:
“Like I mentioned before, Pôle regroups women from 15 years old and we play in the U17 French Men’s Championship because the women’s league is too poor to progress, and playing against boys is very good for us. They skate faster, shoot harder so it’s not so bad. We are just 2,408 girls playing hockey in France, whereas in the USA you have 75,832. So it’s difficult for us, but a lot of little girls are coming now and I think we have good players to take over of French hockey in the future.”

Through 75 career games with Pôle France, Rozier has scored 26 goals and 23 assists for 49 points. Her finest season offensively was this past 2017-18 campaign when she scored 16 goals and eight assists in only 20 games to lead the squad in scoring. Rozier is a winger with a right-hand shot. At 5-foot-3 and close to 140 pounds she possesses quickness, but is more of a heady, cerebral player. Rozier is also modest too, and found it difficult to speak about herself when asked what her best attributes are as a hockey player.

“For playing ice hockey, you have to be very strong in your head because it’s a very hard sport!” she stated. “For me I think I have a good vision. It’s difficult for me to speak about myself. I think I’m a complete player, but I have to work hard for becoming stronger everywhere. When you play ice hockey you have to be good in a lot of attributes – it’s a difficult sport.”

Representing Her Country on the International Stage

During Rozier’s teenage years, she represented France in IIHF U18 tournaments for three different World Championships at the Division I level and one qualification tournament. With her on their roster, France won the 2013 Women’s Division I qualification tournament outright, before going on to win the bronze medal at the corresponding World Championship. Rozier ensured that the French followed that up with a silver at the 2014 tournament and then gold in 2015. She served as an alternate captain for the gold medal team, but may have had her finest performance at the U18 level in 2014. There she was a point per game player with three goals and a pair of assists in the five tournament games.

“When I put the jersey on to represent my country I feel very proud,” Rozier shared. “It is real pride to put this jersey on and a dream! I think a lot of people want to represent their country and not all can do it. So it’s a privilege and I’m very proud of this. I feel really excited because I’m going to play an international game.”

Since the U18 level, Rozier has played for France Women’s National Team at three World Championships at the Division IA level and at an Olympic qualifier, beginning in 2016. While she would go goalless for her first two Worlds and the Olympic qualifier, she saved her first goal at a Women’s World Championship for just the right time. Played in Vaujany, France, the 2018 Women’s Division IA World Championships were held and the French were at the top of the podium – winning gold and advancing for the first time ever into the top tournament. Rozier scored the second goal of the game, which held up to be the decisive game-winner in the final game of the tournament, a 7-1 win by France over Slovakia.

“It’s amazing – I have no words to explain it,” Rozier said when asked what advancing to the top division means to her. “It’s one of the best days of my life. I already know this feeling because three years ago we won the World Championship with the U18 French team (at Division I). But my generation (1997), it was our last year with the U18 team so we won but we did not have the opportunity to go to the top division the following year. But today I can go to the top division, so it’s not really the same feeling. I can see what is happening at the top, and I really look forward to being there! It’s just a perfect moment with an amazing team. And we won in France! The ice rink was full, a lot of noise, my family was here, so it was perfect!”

They’re Not Done Yet!

The work of Rozier and the French National Women’s Team is not done yet. Yes, they have made history and have reached a distinct pinnacle. However, it is not the pinnacle. Rozier has no intention of falling out of the top division and facing demotion once the 2019 Women’s Worlds take place in April. Furthermore, she and France are focused on Olympic qualification as well.

“With the team, the goal is to try to stay in top division next year and be qualified to the next Olympics Games,” Rozier explained. “Personally, I want to progress in the speed of my skating and my shots. To become stronger, and have more playing time – have a more important role on the team and on the ice.”

 

There is no question that Rozier will be able to accomplish her personal goals for skill improvement. She has the drive and the motivation to continuously improve. In terms of her role and value to the team, France needs her more than ever right now. This is no easy road that the French are going down. At the 2019 Women’s Worlds they are in Group B, which includes Sweden, Japan, Czech Republic and Germany. In order to avoid relegation Rozier and her teammates will need to finish better than at least two of those teams. Rozier is fully aware that anything can happen – she is embracing it and making the most of her chances.

“The most important thing I’ve learned about life from playing hockey is that anything could happen,” she said. “And it could all go away in an instant. So you have to push yourself up until the end, whatever happens!”

GB Women To Take Part In EIHA U20 Cup Competition

By IHUK Media

Great Britain Women will participate in a new EIHA Under-20s cup competition next season.

The games – against six men’s U20s sides – will form part of the national side’s preparations for the 2018 Women’s World Championship Division II Group A, being held in Dumfries in April 2019.

GB Women will be joined by Billingham Stars, Coventry Blaze, Deeside Dragons, Kingston, Nottingham and Whitley Bay in the cup competition and a full list of fixtures will be announced shortly.

Cheryl Smith, Great Britain Women head coach, said: “Playing games across the season ahead of the World Championship will be of massive benefit for us.

“Camps are always useful and we will still have those at times throughout the year, but getting game-time is invaluable.

“I would like to thank the EIHA – and in particular Geoff Hemmerman and Jackie Pye – for making this possible.

“It will really help our preparations for the World Championship in Dumfries and give us a great opportunity to see players in game situations throughout the season.”

EIHA JLMC (Junior League Management Committee) chair, Jackie Pye, added: “We are pleased to be able to help GB Women in the upcoming season.

“It is an important year for GB with a World Championship on home ice and we are glad to be able to provide the national side with games by playing in the cup competition.”

All matches in the U20 cup competition will be played under women’s non-checking rules.

Valentine Maka: Growing Women’s Hockey in Belgium

Valentine Maka plays for the Belgium National Team and endeavors to grow the game of women’s hockey in her homeland

By Nathaniel Oliver – The Hockey Writers

Belgium has never been known as a hockey hotbed. For women and girls especially, it is incredibly difficult to even obtain opportunities to play the game. Great strides have certainly been made in the North American leagues, the NWHL and CWHL – we still have a ways to go, but “Grow the Game” is as strong as it has ever been.

But, with the possible exceptions of Sweden, Finland and Russia, you have to recognize too that there is a level of disparity between those aforementioned leagues and countries, when compared to a smaller nation such as Belgium. An immense passion – one that is often encompassed by some hardship as well – needs to be had in order to play the sport regularly and to stick with it. For the Belgian players who love the game, they make due. Thanks to a young player – Valentine (Val) Maka – there is at least a strong flame to keep the passion burning for players in her country.

“It’s gonna sound really cliché,” Maka told THW, “but on a school night the movie The Mighty Ducks was on TV and it held my attention. Furthermore, my mom used to play hockey, so she took me to watch some games. And right after the first game that I saw I told her, ‘That’s it mom – I wanna do it too!’ And that’s pretty much how my hockey journey all started.”

THW spoke with Maka at length so that we could get a better sense of what women’s hockey in Belgium is all about, and so that we could spotlight a player who is certainly turning some heads in her own region. Perhaps she may even catch the attention of one of the professional leagues.

Starting the Game Later Than Most

What is rather impressive to note is that Maka has not be playing hockey for very long. At the time of this interview, she is all of 23 years old and has many years left to play. In most instances though, perhaps especially in North America, a hockey player might start skating before they are even in kindergarten, and then eventually begin playing organized hockey once they reach grade school ages. In the case of Maka though, she did not begin playing until much later.

“I actually wanted to start playing when I was seven,” she explained, “but I couldn’t.  So, I started to play hockey around the age of 15. I guess it’s never too late to start when you really wanna do something.”

Since that time hockey has carried her quite far. Consider if you will that even though she began playing at 15, Maka has already played for the Belgian national team in six different IIHF Women’s World Championship tournaments. Not only is that a testament to how she has progressed as a player, but it confirms her aforementioned statement of how badly she wanted to play. It is rather profound to go from being a novice teenager to representing your country.

Like many hockey lovers, Maka finds inspiration from today’s contemporary stars from both the men’s and the women’s sides. Particularly in women’s hockey, she recognizes that the premier faces in the game are able to cross borders and encourage young players from a wide variety of nations.

Asked which players she admires, Maka responded with the following:

“Ovi for sure. Ovechkin will always be my favorite player because of how talented he is but also because he brings so much to his team as a teammate. But also, I would want to talk about Hilary Knight. This woman is incredible! First, I like the way she spreads her love for hockey. Then, for the fact that she is the first female skater practicing with NHL players – wow! What inspires me the most is how she sees women in sport, in general. She fights for the equality of women in hockey. And I think this is amazing. I wish I could have as much impact on the hockey world here in Belgium than she does in the hockey world in general. She is just amazing!”

From Belgium to Canada and Back Again

Belgium is a nation with a population of over 11 million people. Many will know the names of the larger cities in the country, such as Brussels or Antwerp. Outside of the larger cities though, other areas of Belgium are not well known in North America. Maka hails from one of those smaller parts of her country. For any hockey players who may have grown up in small towns among the Canadian plains, you might be able to feel some common ground with her.

“I lived in a small village called Fraire all of my childhood,” Maka recalled. “Not much to do around there. But as it’s a small town, people are close to each other and caring. I used to just go to school, hang with my friends from school, play in the backyard with them. It was a quiet and nice childhood. I used to see my friends a lot. It was the childhood where kids still went and played outside, and didn’t go on their smartphone or on their tablets. It used to be the ‘we are going to take our bike to go to the farm and pet the cows’ sort of childhood. It was just great. I also used to do karate, ballet and horseback riding. So I had never been involved in any team sport before hockey.”

Shortly after Maka began playing hockey, she had the opportunity to travel and play the game in one of the most hockey-passionate cities in Canada. If nothing else, it only fueled her love for hockey even more. Her commitment to the game in her own country was accentuated tenfold.

“After graduating from high school in Belgium,” Maka recalled, “I went to Winnipeg, Manitoba for a year where I was in an exchange program. I went to high school there and graduated again. I had the opportunity to play hockey there. I played for the school, Oak Park High School. I was a member of the Oak Park Raiders for an entire season. Then when I came back to Belgium, my mom moved to another city, where I still live, called Liège .”

Playing the Game in Belgium

Follow closely to what Maka says about the rather limited opportunities she has to play the sport she loves in her homeland. Her own commitment to a sport with very limited opportunities at home seems to echo her own sentiments about what Knight has been able to achieve. It may also make you feel thankful for your own hockey opportunities.

“It’s actually not that easy to play hockey in Belgium when you are a girl because you don’t have too many options,” Maka explained. “Back when I was 15, to be able to play hockey I had to go to Charleroi. This is the closest city from the town, which is maybe a 30-minute drive. I had to play with guys because there weren’t any girls hockey teams. When I joined the team there were four girls, including me. Two years later I was the only one left.”

 

While she still plays on boys teams from time to time, Maka has been playing with a women’s team – Grizzlys Liège – since she returned from Canada. For many years it was the lone Belgian women’s team, and the squad competes in a German women’s league in order to participate in league play and compete for a championship. You make do with what opportunities you have.

Maka explained, “The thing is now in 2018 we have two girls hockey teams in Belgium. Only two. And those two teams have to play in a German league to be able to have a championship. That’s the reality. Otherwise you have to play with the boys – something I’ve done all my hockey career, and that I’m still doing. So no, there aren’t a lot of opportunities to play in Belgium for girls. Because you need to know that ice hockey is not famous here. Just a few people know about ice hockey in Belgium.”

A Look at Grizzly Liège

For the 2017-18 season, Maka led the Grizzlys Liège in goal scoring, and finished second on the team in points. Her 24 goals in 15 games were the second most in the entire league behind the Hannover Indians’ Bettina Evers’ 26 tallies. Maka’s 37 points tied her for the fourth highest total across the league. The compositions of both the Grizzly Liège team and this lower-tiered German league as a whole are rather interesting.

“We’re a team with a lot of new girls who recently started to play hockey, mixed with some girls who have played for more than 10 or 15 years now. We have two girls from the Belgium national team, and one girl who used to play for France’s national U18 team. So you can either have a high school girl or a woman who works and has kids. I think the fact that all the girls are so much different makes the team even stronger. This team is actually a family – a family that I’m proud being a member of.”

The Grizzly Liège has played in the Germany-3 League for two years straight. In each of those years, Maka and her teammates were runners up for the championship. Likewise, The Grizzly Liège is the only non-German team in their division, named the Landesliga NRW division. The level that Maka and her team are presently playing at is something that she hopes to see improve as time goes on.

“It’s not the worst, but not the best,” she said when asked about the Germany-3 League. “To be honest, I would want to play in a higher division. To be more challenging and to use more hockey sense in order to ask more of everything you currently know. I want the team to be better, to push harder. But as we all grow together, it will demand time and passion.”

Playing for the Belgian National Team

Separate from Grizzly Liège, Maka has represented Belgium on the women’s national team at six different IIHF tournaments. Her first four were at the Women’s Worlds Division IIB championships from 2012 through 2015. While Maka would go scoreless playing in all five games at each tournament, Belgium would stave off relegation until the 2015 tournament. Having the opportunity to play for her country is something Maka is understandably quite proud of:

“First of all, it’s an honor! But really, there are no words. It is just the best feeling. It is incredible to be able to wear the Belgium colors. It is something that I am proud of, and that I will always be proud of.”

Since those first tournaments, Maka has since competed in two Division II qualification tournaments. Individually she has played quite well too. At the 2017 qualification tournament in Chinese Tapei (Taiwan), she scored her first two goals in international play. Belgium would finish in second place at the tournament, while Maka was one of six players to score at least two goals for Belgium in their four qualifying games. In the most recent 2018 qualification tournament, she scored three goals in four games and finished as a plus-5. Two of Maka’s goals came during a 9-0 shellacking of Bulgaria in their first game of the tournament.

The only unfortunate aspect is that in neither instance did Belgium win the qualification tournaments and advance back into the Division IIB tourney. They narrowly missed out by finishing in second place in both 2017 and 2018. Outcomes aside, her international experiences are something Maka places the utmost value upon.

“I have two favorite moments that I will always cherish,” she said. “The first one was the first time I got to sing the national anthem at Worlds with my teammates and all of us lined up. What a great memory! And the second, is the feeling I had when I scored my very first goal at Worlds.”

That first international goal of Maka’s came during an 8-1 victory over the Republic of South Africa at the 2017 qualifiers.

Possibility of Playing Professionally

Along with her ability to score and generate offense, Maka’s best attributes are her work ethic and her character. She plays at her best while under pressure and when confronted with adversity. This has a lot to do with how she has stuck with the sport she loves, despite any difficulties that could have potentially dissuaded her.

“I am hard worker who loves challenges,” Maka shared. “I will never give up – no matter what. And I think that’s what makes me a strong player. Because when it gets hard, that’s when you need to keep on trying, pushing and believing!”

Perhaps there is a CWHL team or an NWHL team who would be willing to give Maka a shot? She is in her early-20s and has completed her studies. What better way to grow and support the women’s game than by providing opportunities to players overseas. Heading into the 2018-19 NWHL season, there have already been a couple European signings with the first Czech (Katerina Mrázová, Connecticut Whale) and first Swedish player (Michelle Löwenhielm, Connecticut Whale) to join the league. Given the right set of circumstances, perhaps an offer should be extended to Maka. It’s certainly something that she has thought about.

“I have,” she said when asked about the possibility of playing pro hockey. “The thing is that I’ve never had the opportunity to do so… yet. I was always focused on my studies, but I have a psychology degree now. I guess being able to play pro would be my biggest goal and also my biggest dream.”

Teams ought to take note and consider contacting this young lady. She would not disappoint.

New Format for Women’s Euro Hockey Tour

By Svenska Ishockeyforbundet

WOMEN’S EURO HOCKEY TOUR

Six countries will play in Euro Hockey Tour season 2018/2019: Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland.

Euro Hockey Tour season 2018/2019 will be played in four tournaments:
A 4 Nations Tournament in Hodonin, Czech Republic, in August 23-25 2018. Countries: Czech Republic, Finland, Russia, Sweden.

A 4 Nations Tournament in Switzerland in November 2018. Countries: Czech Republic, Germany, Russia, Switzerland.

A 4 Nations Tournament in Vierumäki, Finland, in December 13-15 2018. Countries: Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland.

Additional games between Finland-Sweden, Czech Republic-Russia and Germany-Switzerland will also be counted in Euro Hockey Tour 2018/2019.

The final tournament will be a 6 Nations Tournament in Dmitrov, Moscow Region, Russia, in February 7-10 2019. Countries: Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland. These six teams will play in two groups followed by placement games.

Read more about Euro Hockey Tour

Ukraine to created a women’s ice hockey team

By George Da Silva – NT of Ice Hockey

The Executive Committee of the Ukraine Ice Hockey Federation have adopted a decision to establish the national women’s team of Ukraine this season and will debut in the World Championships.

In the early 90-ies, there had been an attempt to create a women’s team at the Kharkov and Kiev institutes of physical education. But the project was short-lived and due to financial reasons and in connection with the reorganization of the women’s competitions under the auspices of the International ice hockey Federation was suspended. The team has already taken part in two European Championships
1993 and 1995.

The women’s team will begin its international play at 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship
Division II Group B Qualification, which will take place in January of 2019 in South Africa. The participating teams will Bulgaria, Hong Kong, South Africa and Belgium. The competition will be held from 16 to 23 of January in Cape town.

The Ukraine have set ambitious plans for the future. To developed a comprehensive program for the development of the national women’s team for five years. In the near future this program will be presented to the public. Also coming soon will be announced of the coaching staff for national team and training plans.

At the end of the season 2017/18 in Ukraine there are 128 hockey players aged 15 years. And 65 girls who are playing ice hockey in DYUSSH groups together with the guys.

In the women’s championship of Ukraine five teams compete, Panther” (Kharkiv), “Queen of Dnipro” (Dnipro), “Ukrainian” (Kiev), “Proteins Dnipro” (Dnipro river) and “Lavina” (Kremenchug).