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.”
The 2010 Winter Olympics were filled with iconic sports moments from premiere athletes who were arguably in their prime at the time. Shaun White took hissecond-straight gold medalin the Men’s Halfpipe, Apolo Ohno became one of the USA’smost achieved winter athletesin the country at the time and Sidney Crosby closed the games with his iconic“Golden Goal”to give the Canadian men’s hockey team the gold medal in an overtime win against the United States.
Yet, in the 2010 games, and in most Olympic processes, a majority of fans choose to tune out the qualification process of getting to the games in the first place. Sometimes, these events can be just as interesting as the Olympic games.
This happened to be the case for theBulgarian Women’s National Teamin ice hockey, yet, in a way that the hockey world never thought would be imaginable before.
Step 2: Qualification
Qualification for the women’s hockey tournament at the Olympics started in 2008. The system of qualification ran through the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), and it’s a process that still occurs today.
At the time, there were a total of34 countries in the worldcompeting in women’s ice hockey at the international level. Throughout the course of annual world championships, the IIHF ranked all 34 countries based on several performance indicators at each championship. The system then assigned points to teams at each tournament for ranking purposes. The IIHF totaled these points every four years to determine the top six teams that qualify for the following Olympic games.
Based on performance at the 2005, 2007 and 2008 world championships, along with the 2006 Winter Olympics, Canada (2,950 points), the United States (2,930 points), Finland (2,770 points), Sweden (2,760 points), Switzerland (2,645 points) and Russia (2,575 points) all received automatic qualification to the 2010 Winter Olympics.
To give lower-ranked teams a chance to qualify for the games, the IIHF split every remaining team after the top six into groups. These groups were split into four-to-five teams per group, who played each other once. The team with the most wins, and thus points in the standings, would then compete in a playoff format to determine the final two teams that qualify for the Olympics.
For the sake of the article, we’re going to focus on Group A, which consisted of Slovakia, Italy, Latvia, Croatia and Bulgaria.
There were a total of 10 games played in Liepaja, Latvia between these teams over the course of five days in September of 2008. These five days would prove to be a nightmare for the Bulgarian team.
Step 3: Embarrassment
Bulgaria opened group play with a game against the Italians on Sept. 2, 2008. A total of 45 people in attendance witnessed the Bulgarians get crushed by a score of 41-0. To put this in perspective, the Italians scored a goal about once every minute of the game.
Italy totaled 122 shots on goal in the game, while the Bulgarians managed four shots on its opposition. Four Italian players recorded hat tricks and the team finished with 41 goals and assists in one night of play.
Fast forward to the Bulgarians second game against Croatia the next day on Sept. 3. Bulgaria managed to score a goal late in the third period of the contest from forward player Olga Gospodinova. This would be the only goal scored from the team in the entire group stage and the team went on tolet in 30 goals against the Croatians that night.
In a similar fashion to the team’s first game, multiple Croatian players recorded hat tricks that night. Diana Posavec Kruselj, a Croatian defenseman, recorded 11 goals in the game.
It didn’t get any better for the Bulgarians in the team’s third game against the host country Latvia.Bulgaria lost 39-0and recorded the team’s least amount of shots on goal in a group stage game up to that point, only managing two on the net.
Before recapping the team’s final game against Slovakia, let’s put these numbers into perspective.
Back in the 1980s, it was easier to score a goal in the game of hockey than it is today. Goalie size, both in terms of equipment and physical status, is historically cited as the primary reason for this. In the 80s, goalies weren’t given nearly as much protective equipment that we see today. Pads were much smaller in width, shoulder and stomach protection was very thin and the famous masks that audiences see in movies such as Slapshot were being used in the National Hockey League.
Photo of former United States goalie Jim Craig
Thesize of the net(72” x 48”x 40”) has never changed, nor has thesize of the puck(three inches in diameter). But, when the size of the person guarding the net is smaller, there is more net to shoot at.
The blog,Hockey Wilderness, covered this changing dynamic of the game after former Toronto Maple Leafs head coach, Mike Babcock, told reporters that goals are simply “much harder to come by these days.”
The blog tested this hypothesis by comparing goal totals in 1980 and in the 2014-2015 season. With 30 teams in 82 games, there were a total of 2,460 games of NHL hockey played in the 2014-2015 season. Both conferences scored a total of 6,719 goals that season, averaging 2.73 goals per game.
In the 80s, with just 21 teams in 80 games, the two conferences totaled 6,457 goals that season with 3.84 goals per game. The blog goes on to note that if two extra games were added for each team that season, based on the league’s goals per game average, the total number of goals scored would be 9,446.
It’s an accomplishment (maybe not so for the Bulgarians) that the team let in 110 goals in just three games, especially in the modern era. In 70 NHL games last season,the Detroit Red Wings let in the most goalsin the league with 267. The Bulgarians were a little less than halfway to that amount in three contests.
Step 4: A World Record
The final game for the Bulgarian women’s team in the group stage took place on Sept. 6, 2008, against the Slovakians. Up to this point, Slovakia had been dominating the group, only letting in one goal combined in the team’s two victories against both Italy and Latvia.
The team, undeniably, were favorites to take the group. They ended up doing just that and a few months later, the team would become the seventh out of eight teams to qualify for the Olympics along with China. The team would then go on to getrouted by Canada in the Olympicsby a score of 18-0.
That all came after the teamscored 82 goals in one game against the Bulgarians. The Slovakians scored 31 goals in the first period, 24 goals in the second period and 27 goals in the third period. To achieve this in a 60-minute game, the Slovakians had to score a goal every 43.9 seconds.
A total of 16 out of 20 Slovakian players scored goals that night, with a total of 10 players individually scoring more than five goals. The team also managed 139 shots on goal in the game for a conversion rate of 59 percent. Forwards Anna Dzurnakova, Petra Dankova and Maria Herichova scored more than 10 goals in the game, making them the top goal scorers in the entire group up to that point.
The Bulgarians only statistic was penalty minutes with a total of 39. Forward Tina Lisichkova totaled 25 of those penalty minutes in the game. A wealth of these penalty minutes seem to come from several altercations throughout the game, including shoving and almost fighting between the two teams.
According to blog writer James Mirtle, the Bulgarianssubstituted the team’s starting goalie after letting in 77 goalswith only three minutes left in the game. The backup goaltender then let in five goals on five shots in one minute and 25 seconds. Despite this, starting goalie Liubomora Shosheva saved 57 shots in the game. Offensively, the Bulgarians did not manage a shot on the net.
This scoreline, according to theGuinness World Records, is the highest-scoring professional ice hockey game of all time.
There was no mercy rule in international women’s hockey at the time, either. Mercy rule allows a team facing potential humiliation in terms of the scoreline to forfeit the game, while also preventing the victorious team satisfaction from inflicting a blowout.
Oddly enough, this game was the only of the Bulgarians four contests that collected post-game comments that were on record. Slovakian coach Miroslav Karafiatreferred to the game as “training”in a post-game interview, despite playing two competitive games prior to the contest.
It was a PR-nightmare for the small hockey nation and one that still affects them to this day. The team’s website and social media profiles are outdated and filled with ridiculing comments. In 2020, the Bulgarian women’s team was still ranked last in the world according to the IIHF.
When all was said and done in both group play and in IIHF standings after the 2010 Olympics, the Bulgarian team finished with zero points in the standings. The team just above the Bulgarians was Turkey, with a total of 840 points.
Photo from the Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation Instagram in a post from 2019.
Very few publications have gone into detail about the Bulgarian team during this time, both nationally and across the globe. Yet, national publications immediately after the game pointed fingers to the Bulgarian government to blame, sourcing the very limited access to play in the country.
To help put this into perspective, at the time, Bulgaria had a population of 7.4 million. Within this number, there were only 299 registered hockey players in the country with three indoor rinks in 42,855 square miles. Out of the 299 registered players, there were only 37 females likely ranging from very young ages.
In contrast, Canada had 74,000 female players registered in various leagues throughout the country. This gives the nation a lot more to choose from at the national level to fill a team consisting of 20 openings.
So, the pool of players to select was minimal and the development of homegrown and professional talent wasn’t there. In the end, there wasn’t much invested in women’s hockey in the country, which still remains true to this day. In fact, national registration for female hockey in Bulgaria recently declined from 65 players in 2016 to 53 players in 2020.
Although unconfirmed, some sources indicate that theBulgarian government simply threw a team together at the last minute, filled with females who could skate. Though the likeliness of this theory remains slim, there are no filings of international play from the Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation before 2008, meaning that a rushed federation could’ve put a team together just to qualify for play.
In the end, both statements indicate a lack of priority in the country for the game. From roster-building all the way to the team’s final game against Slovakia, it only took a few moves to tarnish the Bulgarian hockey identity forever.
The 2020 women’s championship in Nova Scotia was also cancelled because of the coronavirus. Canada’s women’s team has played a total of five international games in the last two years.
The combination of the pandemic and women’s leagues in transition has kept many of them from playing in any real games in over a year.
While the International Ice Hockey Federation and Hockey Canada vow to hold the women’s championship in Canada this year, when will they play a game that isn’t an intrasquad is a question that continues to go unanswered.
“Is this going to happen and when is big on all of our minds,” Jenner said. “It’s tough to plan ahead. We still kind of have a dream of competing in a world championship this year.”
Nova Scotia launched tighter travel restrictions Thursday. The premier stated the women’s tournament wasn’t essential.
“I’m a hockey fan. I’m not happy with the decision, but we have to put public safety first,” Rankin said.
“I couldn’t conceivably ask Nova Scotians to restrict more of their lives and make an exception to have people fly into Nova Scotia from other countries.”
The 2021 men’s under-20 championship was held in Edmonton, with coronavirus protocols there supplying the template for Nova Scotia.
This year’s men’s under-18 championship starts Monday in Frisco, Texas. The men’s world championship is scheduled to start in less than a month in Riga, Latvia.
The cancellation of January’s world under-18 women’s championship in Sweden has Jenner feeling that, for a myriad of reasons, international women’s hockey is getting hit by the pandemic in a way that international men’s hockey isn’t.
“If you pan out beyond this tournament and you look at the fact that we haven’t played a game all year, I don’t know if there’s anyone to blame, but if you’re a young girl, the outcome is you are seeing no women’s hockey games this year,” Jenner said.
“If you are a young boy, you are not seeing the same.”
I am completely disappointed in the province of Nova Scotia’s decision to cancel the 2021 WWC. The health and safety of the people in Nova Scotia has always been our number one priority. To ensure this, Hockey Canada, our medical staff, and the IIHF put these protocols in place: pic.twitter.com/NzrpnIbEV1
Her teammate Sarah Nurse of Hamilton has similar feelings.
“Without pointing a finger and placing blame, because we can’t really compare our tournament location to any other tournament, every government has their own guidelines so I definitely want to make that clear, but I just feel like it’s very hard not to look at it from a gender standpoint because it’s seems like a little bit of a trend,” Nurse said.
“It’s hard not to look at it through that lens for sure.”
Canada’s roster for last year’s championship was set when that tournament was cancelled, so Hockey Canada made it public in recognition of the work the women did to make that squad.
Head coach Troy Ryan of Spryfield, N.S., and his staff, along with director of national women’s hockey teams Gina Kingsbury, were about to start the heavy discussions over which players would be named to the Canadian team when the tournament was called off.
Thursday was going to be a difficult day for the players released, but it turned out to be a sad day for all.
“It just felt like we got the rug pulled out from under us,” Nurse said.
Kingsbury said a 2021 roster would not be released.
Canada’s 47-player selection camp that ended abruptly and the world championship roster that would have been chosen from it are key pieces of preparation for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
Hockey Canada has little in the way of game data to choose a “centralization” roster of roughly 30 players who will congregate in Calgary in August and start working toward Beijing.
“I don’t think we’re in a position right now to know what our next move is and how we prepare for Beijing,” Kingsbury said.
“We’ll work closely together as a group and put together the best possible plan to make sure we’re successful in Beijing and our athletes are prepared and get the experience and opportunities they deserve here moving forward.
“To be honest, right now we’re just digesting this disappointment.”
The majority of the Canadian team was playing in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League when the CWHL folded in the spring of 2019.
Those players and American stars became the faces of the Professional Women’s Hockey Players’ Association (PWHPA) working to create a league that provides a living wage and the competitive supports men’s leagues have.
The PWHPA ran “Dream Gap Tour” tournaments and games on both sides of the border in 2019-20. The pandemic knocked similar plans for this season sideways.
The PWHPA’s American chapter played a few games in the U.S. in recent weeks, but the Canadians haven’t because of tighter pandemic restrictions in their country.
So while the NHL, AHL and other men’s pro hockey leagues carry on, Canada’s top female players remain in limbo.
“Our group in a way feels as if our sport is on hold,” Jenner said. “It goes beyond just one tournament. We’ve just had a string of bad luck in women’s hockey.
“There’s a lot of layers to it. I’m still processing it and my teammates are too. It would be nice to catch a break in the near future.”
For the Nova Scotians hoping to represent Canada on home ice, the disappointment was acute.
They felt the tournament could help heal a province in which 22 people were killed in a mass shooting just over a year ago at the same time the pandemic was descending upon the globe.
“The only thing we were going to bring into this province was excitement, joy, and a little bit of life at a time when I know we all needed it most,” Haligonian forward Jill Saulnier wrote Thursday in a social media post.
Charlotte Cagigos is the backup goaltender for the Drakkars of Caen, an otherwise all-male team in France’s Division 1 ice hockey league. Her story is exceptional in French professional sport.
A woman plying her craft surrounded by male colleagues is rare in French sport, but that is what every day on the job looks like for Charlotte Cagigos.
“When I arrived in Caen, I never thought I’d make the pro team someday. And then, I never thought I’d play a game with them,” the 20-year-old goalie tells FRANCE 24. “I don’t want to set limits for myself.”
Cagigos played her first minutes as a first-team player for the Normandy-based club in an exhibition friendly against the Neuilly-sur-Marne Bisons on January 6.
“The match went pretty well. There was a bit of pressure because it was my first match but that’s not what weighed on me the most. A lot of media were interested in my story and I thought ‘Wow! This actually isn’t very common,’ when for me this game was the logical next step in the journey. I knew the opportunity would present itself at some point since I had been with the group since September,” Cagigos recounts. “I saw that I represented a woman who was playing with the men. And I told myself that, if I had a bad game, it would reflect badly and people would say that women don’t belong here.”
“It’s bizarre to be in the spotlight suddenly when I’m a fairly discreet person. But I tell myself that it’s good for our sport, for the goaltender position and for women’s hockey,” Cagigos explains. “When I was little, I would have loved to see a girl playing on a top team and have her as a role model. I don’t necessarily want to become a symbol but I’d just like to show that it’s possible for little girls to play hockey,” she adds.
Originally from the southern French city of Montpellier, Cagigos first hit the rink at the age of three, following in her big brother’s footsteps. Her parents signed her up for skating lessons, expecting she would gravitate towards figure skating. But Cagigos only had eyes for hockey. “It very quickly became a passion. When I got home after practice on the ice, I’d put my rollerblades on to keep playing hockey,” she says. “While my big brother stopped hockey, my little brother took it up. At home, we always played together.”
At 14, Cagigos enrolled in a sport study programme and left her hometown to join France’s women’s hockey centre in Chambéry, in the Alps. “That’s where I discovered high-level sport. I was with the top girls in France and we played against the boys,” recalls the goaltender, who kept up her studies while in the programme, even passing her high-school baccalaureate final exams a year in advance.
Cagigos is an exception in France, not just within hockey but among all team sports. She is the only woman playing alongside men at the highest level.
Ice hockey is distinctive in that a woman can work her way into a men’s team in front of the net. “In hockey, the goaltending position is particular. The skills it requires are more technical than physical. Mixed sports, why not, but it seems to me difficult to extend to all sports,” Cagigos says.
In 2017, she felt she “needed a change” after a knee injury. “I was looking for a club that would give me ice time and allow me to learn, even as a girl. Not every team has that open-mindedness,” the goalie says. “During an interview in Caen, Virgile Mariette, who was in charge of the up-and-coming players, immediately told me that it wasn’t an issue for him whether I was a girl or a boy. As long as I worked, it would make no difference. That appealed to me right away.”
Another woman had already prepared the groundwork for the Drakkars in Caen. Nolwenn Rousselle, who was trained by the club, was the Drakkars’ official back-up netminder in the mid-2000s. Rousselle was the first woman to appear on a scoresheet in the Magnus League, France’s top men’s hockey championship, one notch above Division 1.
“It’s true that this club is distinctive in that way,” Drakkars’ coach Luc Chauvel tells FRANCE 24. “Nolwenn and Charlotte were used to playing with boys up to the Under-17s and so it was natural for them to move towards goaltending within the men’s leagues. We also try to encourage the development of women’s hockey, but it’s complicated to put together a team,” he laments.
Women’s hockey is considerably more developed in North America than it is in France. At the Olympics, only Canada and the United States have managed to claim gold in the sport since the women’s tournament began in 1998. Olympic goaltenders also have a history of trailblazing in top men’s leagues.
Canada’s Manon Rhéaume made history in 1992 as the first woman ever to play in the National Hockey League when she backstopped the Tampa Bay Lightning in a pre-season exhibition game. Rhéaume went on to win silver at Nagano in 1998. She and Canadian three-time gold medalist Charline Labonté both tended goal in the otherwise all-men’s Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Goalie Kim St-Pierre, who also won three Olympic gold medals for Canada, has filled in at practice for the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens. The road to success is a narrower one in France.
‘One of the team’
In Normandy, Cagigos has been climbing the Drakkars ranks step-by-step. After two years with the Under-17 elite squad, she spent a season alternative between Caen’s Under-20s and the reserve team, playing in Division 3. Then, in August 2020, when the first team’s back-up goalie left the club, Cagigos officially claimed the job.
“Without being officially on the team, I was already training with them. From that point on, fitting into the team came pretty naturally. The boys were super welcoming,” she recalls.
“Charlotte completely deserves her spot. She’s a hard-worker. She gives it her all. She’s always fully invested and always wants to make progress,” says Chauvel. “She has fit in successfully. The boys consider her one of the team like anyone else.”
Cagigos has taken advantage of the absence of Caen’s number-one goalie, veteran France international Ronan Quemener, who is preparing the next steps of his own career by taking courses in neighbouring Rouen.
While the French hockey luminary has been sharing his experience with her, Cagigos knows she has a long way to go before she can score the role of number-one starting netminder like Quemener. “As it stands, I think I’m still a long way from a number-one goalie job,” she says.
“She still has a lot to learn and experience to acquire to be the number-one starter,” her coach confirms. “But I know that if I need her during a match, she is ready to go.”
The sensible young goalie wants to stay at Caen at least for the next two years, while she completes her Master’s degree in sport sciences “as insurance”. Beyond that, she wants to “not close any doors”, she says.
“I think I’ll find a Division 2 club where it would probably be easier for me to have ice time. Or I might try my luck abroad, in which case I’d switch to women’s championships,” Cagigos says.
Beyond her nascent dreams of a club career, Cagigos especially hopes to earn a spot on France’s national team. She has already had the opportunity to take part in several gatherings with Les Bleues. “Permanently joining the group to be able to compete in the Olympic qualifying tournament for 2022 would be a dream,” Cagigos smiles. “With Covid-19, the competitions were cancelled, just as the World Championships were, but the group has one objective in mind: Competing in the Olympics,” she says.
In Caen, Cagigos’s coach is on board. “She’s dreaming of the Olympics. We’re trying to do everything so that she can make it onto the national squad. The club’s objective is to lead her to the elite level, which would be tremendous for her and for us,” Chauvel says.
Cagigos feels fulfilled by her career so far, but she does miss one thing: The atmosphere in the dressing room, so important in a team sport. “I am all alone in mine. It’s the only sacrifice I make,” she says.
Jesse Compheris a first-liner who plays like a fourth-liner, her coach says. On the surface, that might not sound like a compliment. To a hockey coach, though, it’s one of the best qualities you can ask for in a player, especially a captain.
“She plays so hard, competes so much…and she can do so much skill-wise,” saysBrian Durocher(Wheelock’78), BU women’s ice hockey head coach. “It’s a great combination to have as a hockey player.”
Compher (SHA’21) is in the final sprint of a remarkable BU hockey career. Even while missing time from injury and the pandemic-shortened 2020-2021 campaign, she has posted 123 points, good for ninth all-time in BU women’s ice hockey. This year, she was picked as a team cocaptain.
Her talent is evident, but Compher attributes her success on the ice to her competitive edge.
“I think that if you watch a BU practice or BU game you can kind of see it—I don’t like to lose,” she says. “I don’t care if I’m playing against my best friend or anybody on the other team, I don’t like to lose and that’s kind of the mindset I go into it with.”
Born to athletic parents, Compher grew up in the Chicago suburb of Northbrook, Ill., and she spent her childhood competing with her older sister, Morgan, and her older brother, JT, now a forward with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche. “It doesn’t matter what we’re doing around the house, nobody likes to lose,” she says.
That mentality set Compher up for early athletic success: she was part of a team that won four consecutive state hockey championships and a national title in high school. She also skated on the international scene, where she earned two gold medals with the US Under-18 Team at the IIHF Women’s World Championship in 2016 and 2017.
When the time came for college, Compher was recruited to BU by Katie Lachapelle, then a Terrier assistant coach and a US U-18 assistant coach, now U-18 head coach and Holy Cross head coach.
It didn’t take long for Compher to draw attention in Hockey East. Appearing in every game her freshman year, she posted the second-most assists (17) of any first-year in the conference, the third-most points on the team (26), and was chosen for the 2017-2018 Hockey East All-Rookie Team.
Compher exploded as a sophomore, leading Hockey East with 61 points, putting her second of any Terrier in a single season and third nationally that year. She was unanimously named a Hockey East First Team All-Star, a Second Team All-American, and was a top-10 nominee for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the most valuable player in NCAA women’s hockey.
Durocher says the biggest contributing factor to Compher’s breakout sophomore season was her ability to harness her “super intensity,” especially in her skating.
“In her time at BU, Jesse has evolved as an even better skater,” he says. “There was a relaxation element that came up somewhere between her freshman and sophomore years and really assisted her to move forward as a hockey player.”
The highlight of that sophomore year was BU’s 2019 Beanpot win, the first in program history as a varsity team. Compher says the victory was her favorite moment as a Terrier. Her assist on the overtime winner by linemateSammy Davis(CGS’17, Sargent’19, Wheelock’20) brought the Beanpot trophy to Commonwealth Avenue for the first time in nearly 40 years.
“Being out there and being a part of the overtime goal was definitely something special and something I’ll never forget,” she says.
Jesse Compher (no. 7) hoists the 2019 Beanpot trophy alongside fellow Terrier Abby Cook (Sargent’20), who Compher says was one of her biggest mentors when she arrived at BU
Ankle surgery delayed the start of Compher’s junior season. Despite that, she was voted a Second Team All-Star, tying for fourth in Hockey East in points per game (1.11) and finishing in the top four on the team in goals (13), assists (16), and points (29) despite playing 10 fewer games than most of her teammates.
Between her hyper-competitiveness and the bar set by a stellar second season, Compher says sitting out the start of the 2019-2020 season was the most challenging time of her BU career. She credits her teammates with helping her overcome that hurdle.
“We have such a close-knit team here, everyone’s so supportive,” she says. “With the people around me, I was able to get through it.”
As a senior, Compher leads the Terriers with five goals, averaging a goal a game, and is tied for the team lead in points (7). She was entrusted with the “C” on her jersey, a dream of hers since close friendRebecca Leslie (Questrom’18) captained BU Compher’s freshman year. “I kind of always looked up to her and just wanted to follow in her footsteps,” she says.
Teammates say Compher is a natural to helm the team.Courtney Correia(CGS’20, Questrom’22), who has shared the ice with her for three seasons, says Compher’s captaincy was well-deserved and has had a positive impact on the team. “She has definitely been a leader on the ice since I came to this school,” she says. “She’s extremely committed—every time she steps on the ice, she really wants to be there.”
Durocher cites the “innate confidence” Compher brings to the ice for her success and lists her among the top Terriers he has coached in his 16 years behind the BU bench.
“Without a doubt, she’s one of those people in the history of our program that sticks out in any conversation as one of the elite players,” he says. “She checks an awful, awful lot of the boxes to be thought about with some of the top kids here.”
With a player of her skill and motivation, Compher’s ceiling is “super high,” the coach says. She has skated with the USA women’s national team on multiple occasions, cracking the roster for the 2019 and 2020 IIHF Women’s World Championship tournaments and the 2019-2020 rivalry series against Team Canada.
Next on Compher’s list: the 2022 Winter Olympics, set to take place in Beijing. Durocher says he can easily see her on the roster. “If I’m that coach,” he says, “maybe she’s not knocking a Kendall Coyne or Brianna Decker off the first line, but she can play with everybody, and…will be a heck of a great addition to any third line or fourth line.”
In her pursuit of a regular national team spot, Compher says she has learned from BU assistant coachesTara Watchorn (CAS’12), an Olympic gold medalist with Canada in 2014, andLiz Keady Norton, a former Team USA player.
“It’s been cool to learn from them and kind of get things from their perspective and just learn the little details of what it takes to be a national team player,” she says.
Compher credits that attention to detail for much of her success. “In the back of my head, I’m always thinking about what I can do to be better on and off the ice,” she says. “You can have skill, but if you don’t have the right mindset of wanting to be better, wanting to win, and wanting to support your teammates, then you’re not going to get very far.”
In addition to her personal ambition and goals, Compher has a bigger mission—to help grow the sport of women’s hockey.
“I wouldn’t be here playing college hockey without the women who paved the way for me,” she says. “As long as I can, I’m going to try to promote women’s hockey…and do what I have to do to not only make a national team roster, but to grow the game as I go.”
For many women’s teams, the pandemic put hockey on pause for a year. But, with the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Canada coming up in spring, February 2021 saw several countries getting back on the ice and making plans for their rosters for April. There was action in Switzerland, Russia, Denmark and Austria over the past week. Some other countries like Finland and Sweden had two cancel their camps due to COVID-19 while the Czechs had a training camp with no games.
Before last week’s International Break, Hockey Canada and USA Hockey also held camps in January and October respectively to get potential candidates for the Women’s Worlds roster together.
‘It’s really special to be back’
Switzerland assembled for its first team camp in a year and welcomed Germany across the border to Romanshorn for three exhibition games at Lake Constance. Each encounter was a close-fought affair, beginning with a goalless tie that was decided in a shootout in game one. With goalies Saskia Maurer and Jennifer Harss on top throughout the action, it took 32 penalty shots before Emily Nix beat Maurer to give Germany the verdict.
Nix also played a big role in game two, assisting on Kerstin Spielberger’s first-period opener before scoring the game winner early in the second. The 23-year-old, who plays for Eisbaren Berlin in the Frauen Bundesliga, converted a 5-on-3 power play to make it 2-0. Switzerland hit back through Sinja Leemann but could not complete the recovery. For the Swiss it was the second defeat despite outshooting Germany in both games.
Game three was the highest scoring of the week, and this time Switzerland claimed a 4-3 verdict. The teams traded goals inside the first five minute before Leemann’s second tally in two games gave the Swiss the lead for the first time in the exhibition series. Twice, the Germans tied it up – the Nix-Spielberger combination delivering again – but Switzerland won it on Nicole Bullo’s 47th-minute marker.
Both teams were delighted to be able to return to the ice after a long break. When the pandemic struck last March, wiping out World Championships at all levels and categories, few imagined that the February 2020 camps and tournaments would prove to be the last time these teams could get together for 12 months. Germany’s plans were disrupted further by the unavailability of head coach Christian Kunast, but Franziska Busch stepped up from her role in charge of the U18s to deputize on the Swiss side of Lake Constance.
“It was great fun and an honour for me,” she said. “We had some problems getting back to our game after a year, but it was also clear that we continued to work well tactically during that year. We have a stable system that helped us.”
Kunast, watching from afar, was also encouraged by what he saw. “We learned a lot,” he added. “Our younger players are stepping up and the pool of potential World Championship players is growing.”
The Swiss, too, were excited to be back. “We’ve never gone so long without a training camp before,” said goalie Saskia Maurer. “It’s really special to be back with the team after a year apart.”
Happy reunions aside, there was also work to do at the week-long camp. “The focus is a little bit on everything,” said blue-liner Sarah Forster. “After a year, we need to go back to basics. We have a young team, so we have to go step-by-step.”
Head coach Colin Muller was pleased with the progress his team made during the week.
“It’s always difficult against the Germans and this week it was a one-goal game every time,” he said. “We were unlucky to lose the first in a shootout and the second game was also very tight. I’m happy that we were able to react to those losses and win the last game.
“We are always working on our team for the Worlds. This was a test for all of us, everyone had to show what she could do.”
Russia against the world
Russia, short of match practice this season due to COVID restrictions, found an unusual way of getting game time. The Red Machine arranged two warm-up encounters with KRS Vanke Rays, the defending Russian WHL champion. The Chinese franchise, temporarily playing out of the Moscow Region town of Stupino, boasts players from Canada, the USA, Finland, the Czech Republic, Russia and China, making this something of a Russia-against-the-World clash.
Yevgeni Bobariko, Russia’s head coach, had some inside knowledge of the opposition: his alternate captain, Alexandra Vafina, plays her hockey for KRS this season and faced off against her clubmates in these two games. In a pair of evenly-matched encounters, her insight might have tipped the balance as Russia won the first game 1-0, then edged a shootout verdict after a 3-3 tie.
The first game was dominated by goalies. For Russia, Valeria Merkusheva recorded an impressive shutout. That’s the third time this season she’s denied KRS, after twice blanking the league leader in WHL action. At the other end, though, Finnish star Noora Raty was stretchered off in the second period after sustaining a lower-body injury. Last week she announced on her Instagram that the problem was not as bad as initially feared and would not require surgery. However, it’s unclear whether she will recover in time for a comeback already this season. Polina Bolgareva, who plays under Bobariko for Dynamo-Neva St. Petersburg, potted the only goal.
Next day, the teams met again in a higher-scoring clash. Russia opened a 2-0 lead but let it slip and needed a tying goal from Nina Pirogova 33 seconds from the end to save the game. Landysh Falyakova potted the shootout winner.
Olga Sosina, captain of the Russian team, enjoyed the weekend work-out – especially in the absence of the usual Euro Tour schedule: “The Vanke Rays are an excellent opponent,” she said. “They have a skilled team, which plays attacking hockey and went at us from the get-go, finding the places where we weren’t ready and could make mistakes. But in the second game we spent a lot of time in their zone and created chances. We couldn’t take enough of them and got hit with three counterattacks. So we have things to work on.”
For the Vanke Rays, it was a good chance for players to promote their own international prospects. Minntu Tuominen suggested it might also help the Finnish women’s national team get a look at how Russia is shaping up for April’s Worlds in Nova Scotia, while Megan Bozek and Alex Carpenter are both eying a return to the American roster for the big tournament. Carpenter enjoyed her spot of international action during a busy league schedule. “We’ve had a couple of weeks without any games, so these were good tests before the concluding games of the season,” she said. “We had a chance to work on our systems against strong opposition, get a look at our special teams and get ready for a difficult stretch in the season. We have 10 WHL games in a short space of time, then the playoffs.
“The results [against Russia] aren’t so important, but the games were very even.”
Denmark and Hungary, promoted to the top division of the Women’s World Championship together back in 2019 when they finished atop of the Division I Group A in Budapest, faced off as part of their preparations for the 2021 event in Canada. The teams met in Copenhagen at Orestad Skojtehall, the venue built next to Royal Arena before the 2018 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship when it served as practice facilty, and shared one victory apiece from their two encounters.
In game one, Hungary took the honours in a shootout after a 2-2 tie in regulation. The Magyars led twice thanks to goals from Alexandra Huszak, but Denmark twice tied it up with goals from Silke Lave Glud and a last-gasp equalizer from Josefine Jakobsen with 20 seconds left to play. Fanny Gasparics secured the win for Hungary in the shootout.
Day 2 saw the teams meet again and this time the Danes won 2-1. Regina Metzler, 15, made her international debut and celebrated with the first goal as Hungary once again opened the scoring. This time, though, the host hit back through Michelle Weis Hansen 49 seconds later before Jakobsen’s point shot deflected by Glud brought a second, decisive goal.
Austrians beat Kazakhstan
Outside of the top tier nations, Austria played two exhibition games against Kazakhstan. Neither of these teams will go to a World Championship this year following the cancellation of the lower divisions, but Austria could celebrate back-to-back wins in Vienna ahead of both teams’ Olympic Qualification campaign next autumn.
The first game was tight, with Nadja Granitz getting the only goal in the second period. Goalies Selma Luggin and Jessica Ekrt shared the workload, stopping 33 Kazakh shots between them. In game two, Kendra Broad, enjoying her second season playing in Kazakhstan, got her first goal for her adopted nation midway through the first period. However, the Canadian-born centre was destined to finish on the losing side again. Austria recovered to tie it up in the second through Monika Vlcek before third-period tallies from Emma Hofbauer and Lena Daubock gave the home team a 3-1 verdict.
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