With the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship season behind them and the 2023 tournaments on the horizon, women’s national team programs are preparing for the new international season with tournaments and exhibition games against other nations.
Nine countries competing in the Top Division and Division I Group A were the first to do so this fall, with Finland finishing first in the Five Nations Tournament on home ice in Vierumaki and Hungary finishing first in the Four Nations Tournament in Vaujany, France. While most nations were missing a number of key players due to other commitments (such as the NCAA season), these tournaments provided others with an opportunity to make a case for their inclusion on the national team next spring.
Finns find winning ways
Four wins and only two goals against led Finland to first place in their first competition since their sixth-place performance at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championships. Played from 8 to 12 November, the Finns collected two 4-0 shutouts over Switzerland and Germany and two 3-1 victories over Sweden and Czechia. Noora Tulus and Viivi Vainikka led the tournament in scoring, Tulus with one goal and six assists, and Vainikka with five goals. Defender Rosa Lindstedt also stood out with five assists.
While they lost to Finland and Czechia, the Swedes – led by Anna Kjellbin wearing the C – also collected two significant shutout wins. Fanny Rask scored a hat trick in a 7-0 win over Germany to open the tournament, while Felizia Wikner Zienkiewicz collected two goals in a 5-0 win over Switzerland to close out the tournament.
Perhaps the closest game of the tournament was the match-up between Czechia and Switzerland, who last met in the bronze medal game at the 2022 Women’s Worlds, which Czechia won 4-2. While Czechia took a 2-0 lead in Vierumaki, Switzerland tied the game early in the third period. However, it was the Czechs who skated away with the win, with Agata Sarnovska potting the game winner.
It was a tough tournament for Germany, who iced a young team and were shut out in their three games played (the Germany-Czechia game was cancelled due to a power outage). Two teenage goalies shared duties for Germany, 19-year-old Lilly Uhrmann and 18-year-old Felicity Luby.
Hungary wins in France
Hungary followed up their eighth-place finish at the 2022 Women’s Worlds – a historic best-ever performance – with first place in the Four Nations Tournament, which took place 10-12 November. They were followed by Slovakia in second, France in third, and Norway in fourth.
Hungary and France gave a sneak peek into the 2023 Worlds, which will see France return to the Top Division for just the second time. Imola Horvath was the hero of their match-up, scoring a late goal to give the Hungarians a 1-0 win.
Norway, which will compete in the Division I Group A in April along with Slovakia, was the only team able to beat Hungary, which they did by a score of 3-2 with contributions from rising stars Silje Gundersen and Lotte Pedersen and veteran Andrea Dalen.
The host nation’s Clara Rozier, who is on her way to a standout season in Finland’s Naisten Liiga with 14 goals and 13 assists in 17 games, led the tournament in goals scored with three, one to open scoring in a 3-2 win over Norway and two in a 4-3 overtime loss to Slovakia. While France tried to settle into a 3-1 lead, Slovakia made a comeback, tying the game with two goals in the final 10 minutes and securing the win with an overtime winner from Livia Kubekova.
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The Premier Hockey Federation is taking its playoffs to Florida this weekend, but not before making a latest attempt to mend fences with members of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association.
The rival women’s hockey groups met in New York on Wednesday at the request of the NHL in hopes discussions could thaw relations in getting the two sides working together to unify the sport.
The six-team PHF, North America’s only professional women’s hockey league, termed the discussions as being “constructive,” but would not say whether more meetings are scheduled. PWHPA executive Jayna Hefford and NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly declined comment Thursday when reached by The Associated Press.
The PWHPA’s membership includes members of the United States and Canadian national teams, and was established in May 2019 following the demise of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League. The association’s objective has been to establish a league with what it calls a sustainable economic model and preferably backed by the NHL.
While the NHL, as an entity, has urged the sides to resolve their differences, the PWHPA has individual NHL team support in listing 11 franchises as partners. Talks between the PWHPA and its NHL partners and corporate sponsors have intensified over the past month in a bid to establish a league within the next year.
The PHF, which rebranded itself from the National Women’s Hockey League last summer, is moving forward with plans to add two expansion teams, including one in Montreal, and committed to providing players health care and more than doubling its salary cap per team to $750,000 next season.
In the meantime, the PHF turns its focus on closing its seventh season with the Isobel Cup playoffs held outside of Tampa, Florida.
The Connecticut Whale and Toronto Six will have a bye into the semifinals on Saturday after the Whale clinched top spot with a 5-0 season-ending win over the Six last weekend. The playoffs open on Friday with the third-seeded and defending champion Boston Pride facing the sixth-seeded Buffalo Beauts, and fourth-seeded Metropolitan Riveters playing the fifth-seeded Minnesota Whitecaps.
“We just ran out of gas,” Six coach Mark Joslin said of Toronto finishing a point behind Connecticut. “We’re good enough and deep enough and I believe we’re driven enough to bounce back and be ready Sunday in Tampa no matter who we’re playing.”
Forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis, the PHF’s leading scorer and MVP last season, believes the Six are capable of winning the Cup in their second season.
“It would mean the world,” Grant-Mentis said. The 23-year-old led the Six in scoring again this season with 13 goals and 17 assists in 19 games.
The Glenbrook North graduate will get the chance to bring it on the world stage. The Northbrook native was announced as one of 23 players to make up the 2022 U.S. Olympic Women’s Ice Hockey Team during the NHL’s Winter Classic in Minneapolis on New Year’s Day.
Opening group play Feb. 3 against Finland, the U.S. Women enter the Beijing Winter Olympic Games as the defending gold medalist, having won their second gold in 2018. The United States has medaled in every Olympics since women’s hockey was introduced to the Games in 1998.
The team will head to Los Angeles on Jan. 24 and fly to Beijing three days later.
A 5-foot-8 forward who played her college hockey at Boston University, Compher is among eight first-time Olympians named to the squad, along with Savannah Harmon of Downers Grove. Compher trains with the Clarkson University graduate when both aren’t wrapped up in national events and practices.
Despite the timing of the announcement, Compher said the players were notified of their selection in December. The final roster was whittled down from 27 players.
“It’s definitely very exciting when your dreams come true, but not only when they come true with you alone, but also when your best friends and teammates are by your side,” Compher said from Team USA’s training facility, the Super Rink at the National Sports Center in Blaine, Minnesota.
Usual suspect Kendall Coyne Schofield of Oak Lawn makes her third appearance on the Olympic Team and Megan Bozek of Buffalo Grove her second. Hilary Knight, a 2018 favorite from Idaho, is the fourth woman to make four U.S. Olympic women’s hockey teams.
“I’m honestly beyond excited for the experience and the journey over there in China, but I’m just happy to be a part of this program and a part of this team,” said Compher, sister of Colorado Avalanche forward J.T. Compher.
The United States won at the 2018 Pyeonchang Olympics by tying Canada in the third period of the gold medal game, then winning 3-2 in a shootout.
The rival squads faced each other six times in the Why Me Tour with dates in October, November and December, Canada winning four games with three of the six games going into overtime.
The last three scheduled games of the tour were COVID casualties, so the American women scrimmaged boys teams around Blaine, then practiced as a unit since Christmas.
“We looked good,” Jesse Compher said. “We’re just starting to come together, and I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey as a team yet, which is the most exciting part.”
A five-time Hockey East player of the week during her Boston University career, she was a second-team All-America selection in 2018-19 and a top-10 finalist for the 2019 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top collegiate women’s hockey player. In her final season with Boston University Compher collected 11 points on 7 goals and 4 assists in 9 games.
Compher has seen her USA sweater, but hasn’t been able to pull it on yet.
Having played in nine international competitions since she was 16, she knows what it means.
“I think that representing your country for sure never gets old. It’s a feeling that’s indescribable,” she said.
“I’m excited to be on this journey with my teammates and excited for what we will accomplish.”
French goaltender Charlotte Cagigos, left, participates in a training session in Caen, France, on Tuesday last week. She is the only woman to play in a men’s professional team in France.
Charlotte Cagigosis aiming high, hoping to help the French women’s ice hockey team reach the Olympics. For now that means learning a new game as the only female goaltender training with a professional French squad.
Having laced up her first skates at the age of three, the native of sunny Mediterranean city Montpellier — not exactly an ice hockey bastion — knows full well what is riding on her efforts, months away from the Beijing Winter Olympics.
“It’s good for girls to see that you need to fight hard, and that hockey isn’t just a sport for boys,” said Cagigos, a 21-year-old who plays for Drakkars de Caen in the city of Caen in Normandy.
As the staccato of blades echoes off the ice, she stands guard in front of her goal during practice, taking hits from teammates who initially held back on their shots.
“At first when you see a woman in the goal you say: ‘We won’t strike so hard, we’ll be careful,’ but it’s exactly the opposite — we want to score and we hit the same as with any goalie,” Cagigos’ teammate Emmanuel Alvarez said.
Cagigos sought a club after graduating from high school, but few have women’s teams, and those that do often fill them with players of varying skills.
So the French ice hockey federation allows women under the age of 18 to skate on men’s teams.
For female goalies, there is no age limit, as the post is considered less exposed to the contacts that can be brutal elsewhere on the ice.
Yet Cagigos is one of just a handful who have played high-level hockey with men since the 1980s.
Cagigos joined the Drakkars at 17 and now trains with its semi-pro Division 1 squad, just below the Ligue Magnus, although so far she has not yet made its game roster.
For regular season matches, which began on Saturday, she is still on the Under-20 junior side or a reserve in Division 3.
However, since playing her first — friendly — pro game in January, Cagigos has captured national attention, and she has even been profiled by Canadian television.
She is not yet fully a pro, getting paid bonuses only for matches played, but the club’s sponsors help cover the cost of the thousands of euros’ worth of gloves, pads and helmet.
Between practices, she is also studying for a master’s degree in education, aiming to become a teacher.
“She brings a competitive spirit and a solid work ethic, and, above all, she fights hard every day in front of her cage,” Drakkar coach Luc Chauvel said.
She fits in so well “there are times I forget there’s a young lady with us,” he added.
That also means he has to remember to plan on a separate locker room for Cagigos to suit up.
“That’s the only downside to playing with the boys: I miss the locker room camaraderie a little bit,” Cagigos said. “It’s a small inconvenience compared with everything that I’m now able to experience.”
What started with a trip to a pantomime on ice at the age of three has taken Katie Marsden all over the world. The next stop, she hopes, is Beijing.
But to go there, she and her team-mates have to achieve what she says would be a “mindblowing” first – to qualify a Great Britain women’s ice hockey team for the Winter Olympic Games.
Because this is not a team of full-time athletes. Most of them have jobs away from the rink – a teacher and a sports therapist, a supermarket team leader and a forensic mental health healthcare worker. Marsden is at medical school, studying to become a doctor.
“It would be so great because it would just show that we do have so much talent in this country,” the 22-year-old told BBC Sport. “It would be great to get that recognition and show that we can play with the best of them.
“It would put women’s hockey on the map in the UK, and hopefully get more people involved from the younger level. That’s what you need to grow a sport.”
Women’s ice hockey has been part of the Winter Olympic programme since 1998, the men’s since 1920. GB has not qualified a men’s team since 1948, 12 years after winning gold.
The GB women’s campaign to qualify for the 2022 Olympics starts on Thursday, when they take on the first round of qualification in Nottingham in a group tournament with South Korea, Slovenia and Iceland.
But it is a journey that started for Marsden so many years before this, on a trip with her grandparents.
She and her brother initially took up figure skating after that panto visit, but Marsden, already a “tomboy” at that pre-school age, quickly ruled it “too girly” and so picked up a stick instead.
Almost 10 years later, the sport took her across the Atlantic where she would remain for some years. Scouted to attend a boarding school in Canada at 13, that led to her later enrolling at Trinity College in Connecticut, United States, where she could combine her hockey with her studies in neuroscience.
Studying and playing Stateside is a move few British ice hockey players have historically made, but a “steady flow” is now heading there as scouts realise “there are British players who are up to the standard of the American talent pool”.
On leaving home so young, Marsden said: “It was very scary but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world.
“I was incredibly shy when I went, but then I came back and people were like, ‘oh, she’s changed, she’s gobby’.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my family. My mum said she had many sleepless nights. She hated it the first few months. It was weird when I came back during Covid because I hadn’t been home for that length of period before, so then to be locked inside together… Mum said ‘I did miss you but this is getting a bit much’.”
Now, aged 22, Marsden is back in the UK permanently, in her second year at Hull York Medical School. She hopes, in the years to come, to become a sports doctor – a dream born out of her interactions with the “whole medical team” as an athlete.
She had initially wanted to be a vet, but that idea was soon quashed when she realised she and animals “don’t get along that well”.
She gets along well with her team though. Marsden has been a critical part of the Great Britain set-up since her debut in 2016, a winner of three World Championship Division II Group A medals.
Next up for Marsden and her GB team-mates are those Olympic qualifiers, taking place from 7 to 10 October.
And they will have home advantage on their side too because the qualifiers – cancelled in 2020 – moved to Nottingham after South Korea withdrew from hosting.
Group victory would send GB into November’s final qualification round, where a ticket to Beijing 2022 would be up for grabs.
“We’re very, very excited, probably more excited now that it’s in Nottingham,” Marsden said.
“The trip to Korea would have been fantastic but being able to play in front of family and friends, and to get as many people in the rink as possible, it’s just going to add to the experience and hopefully give us that boost to beat everyone.
“We’re confident, it’s a really good buzz, we’ve got a really great team with some nice new young faces, who have brought some really good energy.
“Everyone’s just really excited to get going, because especially with Covid, it’s been quite an anticipated event with it being cancelled last year and us not being able to get on a rink, and now it’s here.”
Camryn Heon wants to go from Kraft Hockeyville USA to the medal stand at the 2022 Beijing Olympics for Mexico.
She is a 15-year-old defenseman from El Paso, Texas, and the youngest member of Mexico’s women’s national team vying to compete Feb. 4-20 in China’s capital.
“Since I was little, I knew that I wanted to be in the Olympics,” Camryn said, “and to know that it’s possible for me to play for a country that nobody would have thought has hockey and to represent them, it’s so incredible.”
Mexico, ranked 26th among 42 countries by the International Ice Hockey Federation, heads to Bytom, Poland, this week for an Olympic Pre-Qualification Round from Oct. 7-10. It will play in a bracket with the Netherlands, Poland and Turkey.
Camryn’s quest for the Olympics has been part of the hockey whirlwind swirling in the Heon household recently.
Her father, Corey Heon, is general manager of the El Paso Rhinos junior teams that play at the El Paso County Events Center, where the Dallas Stars defeated the Arizona Coyotes 6-3 in the Kraft Hockeyville USA 2020 preseason game Sunday.
Heon, who is Canadian, was involved with the Hockeyville USA planning when he was preparing the Rhinos North American Hockey League and North American Tier III Hockey League teams for their seasons.
His wife, Lori, who is from Manuel Benavides, Chihuahua, Mexico, shuttled Camryn back and forth across the border and stayed in Mexico for weeks at a time so her daughter could practice and play.
The family had little time to bask in the afterglow of the Hockeyville game. Corey Heon was scheduled to fly from El Paso to Poland on Monday.
“It’s a pretty good accomplishment in what she’s achieved, being a 15-year-old making that women’s national team,” Corey Heon said last week. “We’re really excited as parents and even our organization is super pumped, too. Without their support and their help, she wouldn’t have been able to do it.”
Camryn said she told her parents and grandparents at an early age she would play in the Olympics someday for the United States, Canada or Mexico, with Mexico being her top choice.
She began skating at 3 and started playing organized hockey with boys at 7 because there weren’t enough girls playing in El Paso at the time to form a team.
Once a girls’ hockey program was finally put together, Camryn joined and continued to play on the boys’ squad.
Camryn said she didn’t know about Mexico’s women’s team until 2019 when the country’s men’s national team played two exhibition games against the Rhinos in El Paso.
“I learned they had an 18-U team, so I started playing with them first when I was 13,” she said. “I had been going back and forth to Mexico for (national team) tryouts and last month, I made it.”
Joaquin de la Garma, president of the Mexico Ice Hockey Federation, said Camryn is the second-best defenseman on the team.
“Camryn is so young but she’s one of our best prospects,” he said. “She’s a great skater, she’s very fast skating. She plays good defensive hockey but sometimes she [contributes] in offensive situations. She’s a key player on the team.”
Mexico has been an IIHF member since 1985. Its ice hockey federation ramped up its effort to qualify for the Olympics nine years ago when the country’s minister of sport boosted funding for the women’s program, de la Garma said.
“For Mexico, the best future is women’s hockey,” he said. “Women’s hockey started officially in the Olympics in 1992 (the first tournament was played in 1998 in Nagano). We can say that it’s new for other countries, so it’s very competitive. For men, it’s very complicated because if you want to be in the Olympics you need to at least have some of the team in the NHL. We don’t have any players in the NHL.”
Camryn said Mexico’s women’s team is a talented group of mostly veterans, including Claudia Tellez, a 37-year-old forward who was drafted in the eighth round by Calgary of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League in 2016 and played her way onto the reserve squad.
“The level in competition in Mexico is a lot higher than what I was used to practicing with, because I’m practicing with women,” Camryn said. “I think playing at that level has improved the way I play, the way I skate and everything.”
She hopes her game has improved enough to help Mexico shock the hockey world by earning a berth to play in Beijing.
“People don’t expect the women’s national team to be ranked (26th) in the world,” Camryn said. “I want to take my team to the Olympics, represent my country in the best way I can.”
When the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship begins on Aug. 20 in Calgary, there will be a noticeable absentee.
For the first time in the history of the women’s worlds, Sweden will not be participating in the top division. The team was relegated after finishing ninth in the 2019 world championship.
It’s been a remarkable downward spiral for a country that has consistently iced one of the top-four women’s teams in the world. Sweden was the first country not named Canada or the United States to play in the final of an international women’s hockey tournament when they earned silver at the 2006 Olympics. They also earned two bronze medals at the women’s worlds in 2005 and 2007.
So, what happened to the national team that upset the Americans in the semifinals of the Turin Games? Let’s take a closer look at what led to Sweden’s relegation.
START OF DECLINE
After picking up a medal in three straight major tournaments from 2005 to 2007, including the aforementioned Olympic silver, Sweden’s downturn began at the 2008 women’s worlds. The team lost 4-3 to Switzerland in the qualifying round, eliminating them from medal contention and earning them a fifth-place finish.
After bouncing back to play in the bronze-medal match in 2009, losing 4-1 to Finland, Sweden followed that up with two more fifth-place finishes in 2011 and 2012. The Swedes regressed further in 2013, finishing last in their group in the preliminary round after failing to win a game. They would win the best-of-three series against the Czech Republic to avoid relegation, but still finished seventh, the country’s worst result since 2001.
There was more disappointment on the Olympics stage, where Sweden ended up with back-to-back fourth-place finishes in 2010 and 2014. In the preliminary round of the Vancouver Games, the Swedes were demolished by Canada 13-1 and were outshot 52-13. They followed that up with a 9-1 loss to the Americans in the semifinal.
At the Four Nations Cup, Sweden has not won a preliminary round game since defeating Finland 2-1 in the 2009 tournament.
LEIF BOORK ERA
Sweden’s downward spiral was aggravated during the Leif Boork era, who was head coach from 2015 to 2018. Boork had little experience in the women’s game, spending one season as an assistant with the team before being named head coach. He had success as a coach in men’s hockey in the 1980s, winning a championship in the Swedish Hockey League in 1983.
At the 2015 IIHF Women’s World Championship, which was held in Malmö, Sweden, the team ended up with another fifth-place finish after falling to Russia 2-1 in the quarter-finals. It was déjà vu in 2016, when Sweden once again lost to the Russians in the quarters, this time by a score of 4-1.
After the 2016 tournament, the fifth straight women’s worlds where Sweden failed to reach the semifinals, several players joined forces and asked to meet with the Swedish Ice Hockey Association (SIF) to convey their dissatisfaction with the direction of the team. SIF refused to meet with the players, asking them to submit their grievances in writing.
The players sent a letter petitioning for Boork’s removal, citing issues with training, tactics, and player treatment, including rules about how players should dress.
In the documentary film Underdogs, the specific contents of the letter were revealed, and the players wrote, in part, “There is a lack of an ounce of human value to be at national team camp.” But according to Swedish newspaper Sportbladet, SIF did not offer any substantial feedback.
In the summer of 2016, veteran defenceman Emma Eliasson, who was rumoured to be one of the driving forces behind the letter, was kicked off the team by Boork. Eliasson, who was 28 at the time, had been on the national team since she was 14, played in more than 200 matches for Sweden, helped lead her country to silver at the 2006 Olympics, and had just been named Swedish Player of the Year.
Boork told Sportbladet, “I think that too much has been compromised and that the leadership has been too weak.”
Eliasson would later tell Radiosporten that following the petition, she was summoned to a meeting with Boork, who asked her if she truly stood behind the contents of the letter, to which she said yes.
Roughly a month later, captain Jenni Asserholt abruptly retired at age 28. She would later tell the Swedish media that Boork had bullied her about her weight.
“It became a number on a scale. That’s what it’s about. He was pretty hard on me that you need to fix this. Somewhere I started to lose the desire to try to get back to the national team,” Asserholt told Radiosporten.
Despite the players’ unrest, SIF president Anders Larsson reiterated that the federation had “full confidence” in Boork, telling Sportbladet that the players’ letter had been “handled.”
In early 2017, a Swedish newspaper, Norrländska Socialdemokraten, reported that Sweden’s men’s national team could earn a bonus of several million kronor for advancing to the finals of the world championship, while the women would receive nothing if they had the same success.
ROAD TO RELEGATION
The unrest off the ice continued to spill onto it. In the 2016-17 season, Sweden won just four international games, the team’s worst record since 2002. The squad finished sixth at the 2017 world championship, losing 4-0 to Finland in the quarter-final and then falling to Russia in a shootout in the fifth-place game.
Following the tournament, Boork took to Twitter and shifted the blame to the players, writing, in part: “One of the problems of Swedish women’s hockey is that they previously compromised with so-called star players.”
At the end of 2017, SIF announced that it would not be renewing Boork’s contract after the 2018 Olympics, but the damage had been done. Sweden finished seventh at the PyeongChang Games, a record low for the team. The Swedes were dismantled by Finland in a 7-2 loss in the quarter-finals, and then fell 2-1 in overtime to Japan in their 5th-8th place semifinals game.
That summer, the Swedish Olympic Committee announced that it was cutting all funding from the women’s national team.
Ylva Martinsen, a former player and an alternate captain on the silver medal-winning team in 2006, was named the new head coach. But even though the team was free of Boork, things would get worse for Sweden.
The team was given just five days of preparation before the 2019 world championship. The Swedes lost their first two games to Germany and the Czech Republic. After a come-from-behind win against France, Sweden needed to beat Japan to avoid relegation.
With the game tied 2-2, Ayaka Toko scored with 1:15 left in regulation to give Japan the win and seal Sweden’s fate: for the first time, they would be demoted from the top division.
Relegation proved to be the final straw for the Swedish team. In August 2019, all 43 players who were selected for camp announced they would be boycotting the upcoming team activities, including that month’s Five Nations tournament.
The players and their union, the Swedish Ice Hockey Players Central Organization (SICO), which they had joined in 2018, published a list of grievances, including:
· SIF’s withdrawal of all financial compensation for the women’s team · lack of insurance for players · limited ice time and poor travel conditions · not being provided with uniforms and equipment made for women; instead, SIF supplied the team with the same equipment given to Sweden’s junior boys’ teams · being provided supplements and nutritional products that were several months past their “best before” date
SIF said it was “surprised” by the players’ decision and added that compensation and insurance should be covered by an agreement with professional clubs in the country, which is the case for the men’s game.
Several big names in women’s hockey publicly supported the Swedish players, including Americans Jocelyne and Monique Lamoreux, who tweeted: “Proud of Team Sweden and what this will mean for their program and the next generation of young girls in Europe!”
Former player Eliasson also supported the boycott, telling Sportbladet, “It feels like there will be a lot of good from it.”
SIF responded by cancelling the 2019 Four Nations Cup, saying it could not guarantee Sweden’s participation. Klara Stenberg, who represented the players, told TheHockeyNews.com that the federation didn’t talk to the players before making its decision.
“The players did not tell the federation they won’t play. They just said they can’t give the federation an answer [right away], but the federation made the decision all by itself to cancel the tournament,” she said.
In October 2019, the players and SIF announced they had reached a deal, which included compensation for national team duties, bonuses for medals in international tournaments, and an additional bonus if the team rejoins the top division at the women’s worlds.
Forward Fanny Rask, who has since retired, said in a release, “For us players, we have always said that there is nothing greater than playing for our national team. It feels like we have taken important steps in the discussions and that we have now been given better conditions for playing [for Sweden].”
Last year, SICO announced the first-ever collective bargaining agreement between the players and the Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL), which includes insurance to cover injuries sustained in either the SDHL or international play.
Unfortunately, Sweden will have to wait another year to work its way back into the top division for the women’s worlds, with the Division 1 tournament being cancelled the past two years due to COVID-19.
Still sporting a set of Ravens goalie pads, Allie Lehmann hoisted a championship trophy in an empty Switzerland arena. She had just completed back-to-back shutouts in the finals to win the Swiss Women’s Ice Hockey Championship.
The former Carleton women’s hockey goaltender played two years as a Raven before turning pro in the summer of 2020. In August of that year, Lehmann travelled from her home in northern British Columbia to Lugano, Switzerland, where she joined the HC Ladies Lugano of the Swiss National Women’s League.
Even though Lehmann has Swiss citizenship, playing professionally in Europe brought a set of new experiences and challenges that many would find daunting.
Adapting on and off the ice
For Lehmann, the first challenge was the language barrier.Over 80 per centof Switzerland speaks either German or French, but in Lugano—which sits on Switzerland’s southern border with Italy—most people speak Italian. This included most of Lehmann’s new teammates and coaches.
“The first few meetings with the team were very different,” she said. Lehmann added as she got to know her teammates, she realized many could speak other languages.
“It took me a while to figure out who spoke English, but thankfully several teammates could translate when the coach spoke to the team or drew up plays and drills,” Lehmann said.
The second challenge was adapting to the European game of hockey. Not only does the style of play differ from North American hockey, but European hockey rinks are15 feet wider. This changes the pace of the game and, crucially, a goalie’s perspective on the ice.
European hockey is more possession-based; players hold onto the puck and pass for long periods of time before shooting. On the contrary, North American hockey is focused on taking as many shots as possible. As a goalie, Lehmann saw this change as an exercise in patience.
“One of my teammates called them social passes, as if the forwards had to pass the puck around a hundred times to say hi to their linemates,” Lehmann said. “There were a few times where a player would have a wide-open net, but choose to make another pass.”
Finding ways to thrive
Andrea Odermatt, a forward on last year’s Lugano team with Lehmann, described Lehmann as a motivational presence on and off the ice.
“The team trusted [Lehmann] in the net … What stood out the most is her understanding and implementation of goalie techniques in practice that reflected in the games,” Odermatt said.
Odermatt, who has played hockey in leagues across three continents, applauded Lehmann’s ability to make an impact despite the adversity of moving across the world.
The challenges weren’t any detriment to her play. Lehmann started the season off hot, debuting in Lugano’s second game with a 3-0 shutout win over Neuchâtel. Through the regular season, she split playing time with goalie partner Giulia Mazzocchi. Lehmann played nine games with three shutouts and a 1.34 Goals Against Average (GAA)—placing her second overall in the league.
Lugano is located in southern Switzerland
As the season progressed, Lehmann had to focus on more than just hockey: she was balancing the online course load of a third-year neuroscience student at Carleton. With evening practices and games on the weekend, Lehmann also took time to focus on herself.
“Surprisingly, it wasn’t as hard to manage my time between hockey and school compared to when I was a student athlete [at Carleton],” Lehmann said. “We had a few practices late in the evening to accommodate players’ work schedules. I found I had a lot more free time.”
Lehmann took up yoga and regularly hiked her way around Lugano landscapes, featuring green mountains, quaint towns and expansive views of Lake Lugano.
The hard work paid off
HC Ladies Lugano entered the postseason as the second overall seed, and because of her regular season performance, Lehmann was the sole starting goalie for the playoffs.
The semi-finals were a hard-fought battle against Thurgau, which followed Lugano closely in the standings all season. Thurgau’s top scorers, Phoebe Staenz and Simona Studentova, put on an offensive show but with key saves from Lehmann and an offensive push from Lugano, the team squeaked by in four games.
Allie Lehmann (right) and teammate Andrea Odermatt (left) after winning the championship
In the finals, Lugano opposed their league rivals, the number-one seeded Zurich Lions. Unlike the offensive spectacle of the previous round, this matchup was set to be low-scoring. Zurich was a defensively-strong team, backed by French goaltender Caroline Baldin, the backbone of Zurich’s success. But at the other end stood Lehmann and a powerful Lugano offense led by Michelle Karvinen, who scored at a goal-per-game pace in the regular season.
Zurich and Lugano split the first two games in the five-game series. In game three, Lehmann and Lugano took a dominant 2-0 lead in the second period and withstood eight minutes of penalties in the third period to complete the shutout. Lugano took a 2-1 series lead.
After the game, Lehmann said she focused only on the next game and not what would happen if Lugano won.
“I tried really hard not to think about the possibility of winning a championship,” Lehmann said. After a nearly three-hour drive home from Zurich, she said her focus was on resting.
“Together, we altered my approach to playing big games and acknowledging the emotional side of the game,” Lehmann said. “If I focused on staying present and competing, then the performance would take care of itself.”
Throughout the first two periods, Lehmann said she focused on each shift and play, allowing her nerves to fuel her performance.
With Zurich goaltender Baldin at one end of the ice and Lehmann at the other, the game remained tied through the first two periods. It wasn’t until eight minutes left in the third period that Lugano’s Karvinen scored to give the team a narrow edge.
“After we scored, I felt the most calm. I kept my focus … and tried not to watch the clock,” Lehmann said.
Despite Zurich’s best efforts in the final minutes, Lehmann kept her cool in net and the HC Ladies Lugano won the Swiss Women’s Championship.
Allie Lehmann (left) holds the championship trophy with teammate Michelle Karvinen
The season ended with little pomp and circumstance. The team lifted the championship trophy in an empty arena and received their medals without any handshakes. After weeks of COVID-19 tests and quarantine, Lehmann returned home to British Columbia, just in time for spring chores at her family farm.
Next year, Lehmann said she will return to Switzerland for another season in net and hopes to also train with the Swiss national team for a shot at playing in international tournaments.
Kristen Campbell always dreamed of being part of Canada’s defence.
Just not necessarily the last line of defence.
“When I was a little girl, I started out on the blue-line,” Campbell said. “I actually idolized Cassie Campbell. I wore No. 77 because of her, and I’d always watch all the national-team games.
“And then I ended up switching to goalie. My brother was a forward, so he threw me in the net. And once he threw me in, I basically never came out.”
That way-back-when switch from the blue-line to the blue paint proved to be a wise move for Campbell, who is emerging as one of the best in her business.
In fact, the 23-year-old — a proud member of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) — was thrilled to learn earlier this month that she will be one of the three goaltenders on Canada’s centralized roster for the upcoming season, the short-listed candidates to represent the country at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“It’s an honour to be named to that roster and it’s a goal of mine that I’ve had now for my entire life,” Campbell said. “It’s something I’ve been craving — to get into that competitive, high-performance environment of centralization. I think the news has started to kind of set in now, and I can’t wait to get things going with that group.”
Originally from Brandon, Man., Campbell has been playing the waiting game again this week with the stars of the PWHPA gathered in Calgary for a Secret Dream Gap Tour stop.
She tends twine for Team Scotiabank but because the locals have such a crowded crease, she’s yet to be tabbed for a start. That should change in Friday’s clash at the Saddledome against Team Bauer, still perched atop the standings despite Thursday’s 4-3 loss to Team Sonnet.
That means Campbell will be staring down a dynamic cast that is led by the likes of Marie-Philip Poulin and Laura Stacey.
It’s been a tough go for Team Scotiabank, on the wrong end of two lopsided losses so far at this three-team showcase, although that shouldn’t come as a major surprise since the Calgary-based training group hasn’t been able to practise in several months due to public health measures. They’re playing games and playing catch-up at the same time.
Although Campbell moved to the city last summer, determining after a standout collegiate career with the University of Wisconsin Badgers that it would be ideal to be close to Hockey Canada’s resources and training facilities, she admitted during pre-tournament quarantine that she still hadn’t met a lot of her Scotiabank sidekicks.
“I want to be in that team environment again, just get to know people better,” she said. “And then when I do get a chance to play, give my team the best chance to win. That’s my goal.”
For Campbell, the prep work certainly hasn’t stopped because practice time has been so scarce during the pandemic. She has been able to knock off some of the rust at Hockey Canada camps, including try-outs for a world championship that was postponed on startlingly short notice.
“There are a lot of little things that I do on a daily basis to keep myself ready. It all starts with what you do as a part of your routine,” Campbell explained. “I do a lot of visualization and a lot of vision training off the ice, just things that are going to keep me ready for whenever the puck does drop for a game. And I’ve been able to get a sprinkle of action this year with the camps. So just getting back in those (scrimmages), it doesn’t feel like it’s been a year since I’d actually played a game due to the prep that you do off the ice.
“I’ve worked with a sports psychologist now for five or six years and we do a lot of visualization even for practice. So even though you’re not getting the game reps in, it’s making sure that you’re making the most of those practice sessions so that you can trust you’ve fully put in all the work when you do get to the games. Just visualizing certain things that I want to work on, even if I don’t get to be on the ice — like sitting there and going through those drills and those reps in my head. And then obviously there’s visualization for games, so going through different situations that will come at you and visualizing the environment that you’ll be in and trying to make it as clear as you can, even without being in that exact moment.”
Back when it was more daydreaming than a mental training exercise, Campbell had visions of being a defensive stalwart for Team Canada.
She could, come February in Beijing, be standing in the crease instead.
“People are always like, ‘Oh, why would you want to be a goalie?’ I’ve heard that so many times,” she said with a chuckle. “But I just love the pressure, honestly. And you get used to it, too. It’s not even pressure anymore. It’s just fun.”
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