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Player-Coach Courtney Birchard Lends a Hand to Slovakia’s Ice Dream Ko?ice

When Košice’s first women’s ice hockey team folded in 1996 because the arena they used was being reconstructed, the lack of female hockey in Slovakia’s second largest city troubled Eva Moleková.

“For years it really bothered me that a big city such as Košice … doesn’t have a women’s team,” explained Moleková. “So in 2012, with the help of a few girls we started [to build a team again].”

Moleková is now the head coach of Ice Dream Košice, a team currently in its second year in Slovakia’s women’s hockey league. Still a fairly new team, Ice Dream is focused on developing its players, partly with the help of Canadian Courtney Birchard.

Rostered as a centre, Birchard brings her wealth of hockey experience to Slovakia. She competed in the NCAA with the University of New Hampshire, in the CWHL with the Brampton Thunder, and for Team Canada in three World Championships, from which she has one gold medal and two silver medals. The 28-year-old from Ontario also recently served as an assistant coach on Canada’s National Women’s Development Team at the 2018 Nations Cup.

Through nine games played so far with Ice Dream, Birchard has 19 goals and four assists, and she leads Ice Dream in both goals and points. She is contributing in other ways as well, serving as an assistant coach.

“Playing with Courtney and being coached by her feels like the biggest blessing,” said Moleková’s daughter Eva Mária, who plays for Ice Dream. “I never dreamed of having someone like her on our team. She makes everything fun, but knows when to be serious. She’s a big inspiration and her presence really motivates me to do better.”

While Ice Dream has just one win so far this season (a 4-2 win against ZHKm Zvolen in December), they continue to pursue their goal of growing and developing women’s hockey in the city of Košice and the country of Slovakia. The team welcomes anyone who wants to learn to play the game and, as Eva Mária stated, they “never give up … we really support each other. We’re like family.”

In addition to Birchard, Moleková has also recruited experienced Slovak players, like Lucia Petrovi?ová and Katarína Drli?ková, to the team.

“[Moleková] asked me a few years ago if I would help girls and play with them and my answer was yes,” said Petrovi?ová, who has represented Slovakia at several World Championships.“We have a lot of fun and of course its nice to see how we get better and better.” Drli?ková has played in Slovakia’s women’s hockey league for over 10 years, spending most of it with the now defunct HC Topolcany.

Like many other Slovak women’s teams, along with skill level, the ages of Ice Dream’s players vary greatly, ranging from 13 to 50.

“I think the challenge of this league is the different skill levels, and there is only one league in all of Slovakia,” explained Birchard. “No matter your age, you play in this league … The challenging part has been finding drills that suit all levels of play and trying to explain them with the language barrier.”

Women’s hockey teams in Slovakia are continuing to try to address the obstacles they face, from a lack of funding and awareness to a fairly small player base and few opportunities for girls and women. However, those in the Slovak women’s hockey community, including those who, like Birchard, have come from elsewhere to join this community, continue to be united by sport and positive about their future.

“I have truly enjoyed my experience with Ice Dream,” said Birchard. “They are passionate about getting better, they work hard, and are truly genuine women who welcomed me with open arms.”

For more information on Ice Dream Košice, please visit: http://icedreamkosice.com/  

To follow Slovakia’s women’s ice hockey league, please visit: https://www.hockeyslovakia.sk/en/stats/home/615/women-extraleague


Liz Montroy

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