The 2018 IIHF Women’s World Championships season kicks off in just over a week with the Division II Group B Qualification tournament. Five teams will compete in Sofia, Bulgaria from December 4-9 with the goal of gaining promotion to the Division II Group B tournament.
Bulgaria has hosted this tournament twice before, in the 2011 and 2016 seasons. Ranked 35th in the world, Bulgaria will be looking to improve upon past performances, as they have not yet been able to move out of the Division II Group B Qualification tournament (previously the Division V tournament). Last season they finished fourth out of five teams, with one win over Hong Kong and four losses.
“The tournament will be very interesting in my opinion,” said captain Stefani Stoyanova. “All teams have prepared and I think every game will be hard. What I will look forward to will be giving 100% from me and try to support my team with everything I can as a captain.”
The tournament will likely be challenging—Bulgaria has struggled to score in past tournaments—but the players on the team are passionate about the game and about representing their country. Besides playing with their club teams in the Bulgarian women’s and men’s leagues, the national team players have been training on and off ice together since the summer to prepare for this tournament.
“We need to stick together as a team and we need to give the best we can in order to succeed,” said Stoyanova. “I think we need to play for our teammates, for our country and for the people who will come to support us … I am a proud Bulgarian and I think every girl from our team is as well. So I think this will be the main point in the tournament.”
Bulgaria, led by head coach Dian Lilov, will face off against Belgium, Croatia, Hong Kong and South Africa in front of a home crowd, which Stoian Batchvarov, the Executive Director of the Bulgarian Ice Hockey Federation (BIHF), has said helps grow the game.
“A lot of new girls are coming to play after such an international event … [and] of course our girls are more excited to play in front of our fans.”
The development of women’s hockey in Bulgaria has also been supported through events such as those held for the IIHF World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend (WGIHW). This past October, girls and women between the ages of four and 40 attended the WGIHW event held by the BIHF at the Sofia Winter Sports Palace, the same rink where the Division II Group B Qualification tournament will be taking place.
“All the girls were happy and really excited about that possibility to skate and play hockey side by side with girls from the national team,” national team player Vanesa Georgieva told IIHF.com. “They loved the time they spent on the ice.”
With just 51 registered female hockey players (which is less than the other countries Bulgaria will face this tournament) the Bulgarian women’s national team players hope to increase the number of girls and women playing in their country. Similarly to many European countries, young girls in Bulgaria often start by playing on boys teams, and national team players like Georgieva and Stoyanova have been doing their part to encourage them to continue playing hockey.
“Some [women’s] national team players are coaching those little girls, helping them improve, and most important [teaching them to] love the game,” said Stoyanova.
For more information, and to follow the 2018 IIHF Division II Group B Qualification tournament, please visit the tournament’s website: http://www.iihf.com/competition/661/