As the season closes in on the end I chose to spend a week in Reykjavik, Iceland for the Division 2B Women’s World Championship featuring some unusual nations when it comes to ice hockey. You might not believe it when reading about a tournament lining up the national teams from Turkey, Belgium, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and hosting Iceland, but there are skills and talent in this group that belongs at a much higher level. Don’t get me wrong, there is a reason why these teams play at this level, it’s all about lack of resources and cultures where hockey is a minor sport so they don’t really have the depth for playing in the top divisions of the world. Most of these countries have less than 100 registered women players which makes their performance in this tournament even more impressive.
I can’t say I was totally un-aligned going into this tournament, because actually I came to cheer for and support Croatia’s primary goalie Petra Belobrk who I knew some since before so you could say Croatia was "my" team and they did grow on me a lot over the course of the week. So glad I got to hang out some with them outside the rink, it’s so easy to support a team that you feel connected with and what a treat it was to see them play.
In the first game I got to see a strong Spanish team take on Belgium beating them 5-0, since I had no references on either the level or playing style of any of these teams it was nice to get a feel for them right off the bat. Spain felt very well balanced, no players really standing out, but on the other hand no really weak spots either, without having any comparison I saw them as one of the main contenders for advancement to next year. Belgium was pretty bleak, not really able to create any scoring chances or tactics for moving the puck, the only players who stood out was their smart defender Renee de Wolf and back-up goalie Jente Vanroy who stepped in after the first three goals.
Next up Croatia versus their neighbor and rival Slovenia who ranks just above them in the world ranking and this was going to be one of the best games of the tournament, both teams displaying high end players, although both also have a larger gap between the top and bottom of the team than Spain and Iceland. Today Croatia showed their very finest colors outplaying Slovenia from the start winning the shots in the first period 18 to 5, scoreless though after some great saves by Slovenian goalie Ines Confidenti (pretty cool name, right?). And as the theme of this season has been the lesser team taking the lead this was no exception, Slovenia up right at the start of the second period, but when push comes to shove the better team will mostly win in the end. As Croatian captain and standout defenseman/secret weapon stepped it up and scored a couple on her own to put Croatia in the lead heading into third. The final period matches the teams evenly getting a goal each and an equal number of shots so Croatia goes out with a real nice feather in their cap after beating the rivals 3-2.
Having seen players stand out on every level, the Croatian captain Diana Kruselj Posavec is really one of those players, playing D with the ability to actually go coast-to-coast through an entire defending team and scoring, and not only that she plays nearly 40 minutes in the big games and able to conserve strenght being the first player home when the play turns and still having the power to turn around and go on the offense when her teammates goes for line changes. Despite that I would pick out their other standout defenseman Ela Filipec for my team, who plays a brilliant tactical D-play and also with a scoring touch like Diana, both of them would be great additions to any team home in Sweden and that’s saying quite a lot about players from these small hockey countries.
Not to go on and on about all the games, the tournament ended with Croatia going undefeated winning the gold medal and advancing to next years Division 2A tournament. Slovenia beats Spain in the last game claiming the silver medal with Spain ending up third. I’m sure I’m going to be there next year wherever Croatia ends up playing, might be in Poland or perhaps Korea or Australia, anyway it should be another exciting adventure. I was a bit sad seeing Turkey get relegated since they did rack up better games than Belgium, still I believe they will be back even stronger next time and for sure giving Division 2B an even better tumble in the future. It was great to see Turkey’s goalie got the award for best goalie in the tournament, not only did Sera Dogramaci put up some great saves but she also turned out to be an excellent stick handler playing the puck with greater skill than most goalies I’ve seen, Kim Martin and Noora Räty is probably the only ones I’ve seen that’s actually better.
Of course, captain Diana recieved the price for best defenseman after putting up some stellar numbers, scoring 11 goals, 7 assists and a +10 rating in 5 games. That is so impressive since the best forward Pia Pren (Slovakia) only got 13 poins, and she was playing really excellent the whole tournament, another player who would do fine in our Swedish elite league.
And there are a whole bunch of players who I would like to see play in the Swedish first division, not only would they get the opportunity to train at a much higher level, but they would bring home a lot of details to improve the future of their national teams. I was impressed by the Spanish Abrisqueta twins, a solid defensive pair. Tuba Dokur from Turkey, with enormous acceleration, a real break-away player and her teammate Seda Demir who could pretty much fit at any position of the ice. Icelandic Flosrun Johannesdottir who stood out with her mighty slap shot. All teams did have some good things going for them, sure some more than others but there are resources here for all of Europe to look at and expand their recruitment area. Young Anja Kadijevic of Croatia are studying at Lindenwood University, I really hope to see her get to play in the next years NCAA season because she has so much potential to be explored if she just got the chance.
So to sum it all up, my week in Iceland were a great experience. Not only did I get to see Reykjavik up close, but also bonded with a wonderful Croatian team, obviously having to learn some colors in Croatian to survive playing Uno with them! Got to see a lot of talented young and old players from countries you wouldn’t even imagine having any and a tournament that offered a lot of exciting and competitive games. Having seen this I can only imagine the possibilities of expanding the cooperation between nations, exchanging ideas and players between different leagues thoughout mainly Europe and there is a bright future to be seen!
Now I’m home for a few days before heading off to Prerov in the Czech Republic to watch the Division 1A Women’s World Championships, should be a real treat to finish off the season there, getting to watch as favorites Norway and Denmark battle for a spot in next years World Championship in Sweden. Could you imagine anything better than to end the season seeing Josefine Jakobsen, Andrea Dalen among others working their magic one last time before summer?
I’ll get back with a summary of my season in a month or so when it all has begin to sink in a bit, there has been a lot of magical moments over the year!