By Elena Yank – The Lawrentian
On Feb. 26, Slovak ice hockey player Nela Lopušanová celebrated her 15th birthday in perhaps the most fitting way for the young star: scoring a jaw-dropping 19 points in one game.
Lopušanová’s 10 goals and 9 assists in that game contributed heavily to her team’s (Vlci Žilina) 24-1 win over HC Košice in the top Slovak women’s league, Extraliga žien. Following this win, the young star now has 28 goals and 21 assists in 8 games, placing her fourth in the league in scoring while having played half as many goals as those with more points than her.
First drawing international attention in January of this year, a then-14-year-old Lopušanová scored a Michigan, or lacrosse-style goal – a goal scored by lifting the puck on one’s stick and shooting into a top corner of the net from behind – to tie the quarter-final game between Slovakia and Sweden at the IIHF U18 Women’s World Championships. She was also named the tournament MVP, leading all skaters at the event with 12 points.
Besides playing in the Extraliga and internationally, Lopušanová plays for the men’s under-16 (U-16) league, where she is first in points per game and thus far has scored 43 points in 13 games. Her success playing against both girls older than her and boys her same age would seem to quell any accusations that the outstanding numbers she is putting up can only be attributed to the relative ability of the players around her, which detractors of women’s hockey are wont to purport.
With her current skill level, Lopušanová’s future superstardom seems inevitable as she shows no signs of slowing down. Being just 15, she has a few more years of eligibility at the U-18 level before the all-but-inevitable event that she will be given the opportunity to play for Slovakia’s senior national team; Lopušanová must wait at least one more year before she would be eligible.
What makes Lopušanová even more impressive is the fact that she is an elite player in multiple sports. Picking up figure skating at age two before becoming an ice hockey player, she also plays soccer and is a member of Slovakia’s national women’s ball hockey team.
Nela Lopušanová not only has the opportunity to revolutionize women’s hockey, which still faces derision as well as a lack of funding and support, but also to be the “next face of hockey,” per Jesse Pollock of TSN. As current women’s hockey icons, like Olympians Hilary Knight and Amanda Kessel, are nearing retirement age for the sport, and rising stars, including Jesse Compher and Abby Roque, are stepping up, Lopušanová may have the opportunity in a few years to serve as an ambassador for a new generation of elite women’s hockey. While the future of women’s hockey can be a heavy expectation for a young girl to carry, Lopušanová stays focused. Her personal philosophy is to take her sport one day at a time and not concern herself too much with what the future holds.
Despite her amazing numbers and plethora of highlight reel-worthy goals, this young player gets relatively little media coverage for someone of her calibere. Few major English-language sports outlets are covering her trajectory, even the recent 19-point game. In general, women’s sports are regarded as inherently lesser than men’s, but even when men’s sports are considered to be the default, Lopušanová excels. “I want to make girls’ hockey more visible to the world,” she says;, and if her current level of play is anything to go by, then she certainly has the capacity to do so.
With all eyes currently on Connor Bedard, perhaps in a few short years Nela Lopušanová will be the most talked-about name in not just women’s hockey, but in the sport as a whole.
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