When once I was told that life only starts in your forties, I could not believe it. But it appeared to be true, as I started practicing active sports when I turned 40 years old. And this is when I got engaged in ice hockey.
Being a female ice hockey player in Lithuania is still exotic—tell that to any group or company and their attention is guaranteed. Thus, if you crave for attention and new challenges, just get into playing ice hockey. Or vice versa–come to play ice hockey because you like it and then face challenges and attention.
My case was the second one—I just liked it… well, it might be that “liked it” is not a correct word… I was involved, inspired and completely immersed. The cold, the ice, the sound of skates hitting the ice, the speed…
My husband got me used to watching ice hockey games. We were watching games live in the Ice Halls when the Lithuanian national team or any other men’s ice hockey team was playing. A couple of times I watched the games of the regular NHL season when the NHL Global series games were played in Europe. I got hooked.
When a long-time member of the national Lithuanian team, Artūras Katulis founded an ice hockey academy for children in Vilnius (“Sostines ledo ritulio akademija” or SLRA), we got our youngest son enrolled. That is how ice got closer to me and I got closer to the ice. Ice hockey has become a big part of our family’s life. As most dads used their chances and got on the ice to be trained by their children’s coaches, soon there were also the moms asking for the similar trainings. Here you go.
Thanks to SLRA senior coach Artūras Katulis, on 12 March 2016 the first training for non-skating mothers was organized. He has become the godfather for “Hockey Stars” – the first women ice hockey team in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The HC “Hockey Stars” trainings have started together with Artūras Katulis, but soon were taken over by a young coach in SLRA, a player for the Lithuanian national ice hockey team, Mauras Baltrukonis.
At that time Lithuania already had one women’s ice hockey team, HC “Hockey Girls” with players from different Lithuanian cities, but they were practicing elsewhere. Neither women’s nor men’s ice hockey was very popular in Lithuania, which the second religion is basketball. However, the situation is changing. Although men’s ice hockey is becoming more and more trendy, the country is also trying to get used to seeing women playing hockey on ice.
So, the HC “Hockey Stars” started in March with about 12 to 15 women and barely one training per week. In the first months, we did not even have a constant training schedule. It would sometimes be moved to early weekend mornings. As some were saying, on Sundays women should go to church instead of playing ice hockey. What is God’s, let’s leave it to God. But this is not our talk. It’s about hockey. The first trainings were terrifically funny. No one from the new team could even skate properly. But it was fun. Also for the coach! The hour on ice ran as quick as one minute. When you get on the ice, all your problems are far aside. The only important thing was to get your skates moving properly to do the exercise correctly and just not to fall 🙂
We were having fun in that first season. We learned how to skate and play ice hockey. We just enjoyed what we did in that one-hour training, had two wonderful coaches and were happy. We celebrated on ice, greeted coaches during Christmas, and received flowers from them on the 8th of March—International Women’s Day. However, when it comes to training, one hour per week was clearly not enough to learn and there were just too few team members to pay for more time on ice.
The Lithuanian ice hockey community was not large, but there were quite a number of men’s amateur teams. While there were nearly 10 men’s teams in Vilnius, we were only 15 women playing ice hockey in the whole city. And we felt special. At least I did. However, the price of ice for the women’s team containing just 15 members was cosmic. So, in my second season I joined in the trainings of amateur men’s ice hockey teams. Now, I am very grateful to the HC “Hockey Pots” who admitted me. Not all of them were initially very happy, though. But they had tolerated me. We got used to each other afterwards and even became friends.
It is difficult for a woman to play ice hockey with men. They are stronger, faster and tougher. If you succeed in getting a pass from a man during the game, it is already an achievement. But this is also a good opportunity to improve, learn to skate faster and make harder shots. Equality is not a subject for discussions here. I found it charming to hear a man apologizing after knocking me down during the game, then stretching his hand and assisting me to stand up. Although there were as well some other players who pushed me down deliberately. Well ok, I knew what to expect–it was ice hockey, definitely not a ballet. Still I am happy when I am treated as a woman when I am on the ice with men and I have to thank all of the male ice hockey players of Lithuania: HC “Hockey Pots”, HC “Tauras”, as well as other teams, amateurs or professionals, the coaches and teammates on ice who have supported and continue supporting Lithuanian ice hockey women.
So, I already had two hours on the ice–one weekly training with women and one with men. With HC “Hockey Stars” there were still too few of us, although some were already dreaming about medals. To involve more women in our dream, we printed posters and together with teammates hung them in workplaces, shops, colleges and everywhere we could. HC “Hockey Stars” created FB stories and even started an online registration for women and girls, inviting them to try a free first ice hockey training session and providing them with the spare hockey equipment borrowed from teammates, their husbands, brothers or even children.
It was a success. At the beginning of the third season we had nearly 20 women and girls joining the weekly trainings. During the games or tournaments we also invited girls from other cities and as they happily joined us, the boundaries of our team expanded beyond the capital city Vilnius.
Though HC “Hockey Stars” has first attended a women’s ice hockey tournament as a joint team back in 2017, the true start of our team’s career in women’s ice hockey tournaments was the third season. With barely two women’s ice hockey teams in Lithuania, the tournaments had to be international, thus we competed with teams from Latvia, sometimes Poland or Ukraine. When HC “Hockey Girls” entered the Latvian Women’s Ice Hockey Championship, I joined their team for several games. It was fun and a good experience, but I really wanted to win medals with my team, HC “Hockey Stars”. And I believe it will happen.
The fourth season for HC “Hockey Stars” shall begin with two trainings per week… and a chance for its team members to be listed as candidates for the national Lithuanian women’s ice hockey team. To be true, currently only a few Lithuanian women play at the professional level, others are amateur players. But we have more and more little girls coming to ice hockey schools and joining boys’ teams. Thus, we believe they should have a chance to play for their country in the future.
This year shall be historical for Lithuanian women’s ice hockey as the Lithuanian national team shall first participate in the IIHF Women’s World Championship. It does not matter that it shall be the lowest division. And it does not matter if I get selected to the national team, even if they may win the medals. Ice hockey will always be my game and HC “Hockey Stars”, my team. We will do our best to train better, fight harder and rejoice in what we do.
I am very proud of my team. We are writing the history. We are the history.
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