2021-22 Games 4 and 5 – EV Bolzano Eagles vs SKP Bratislava and KSV Neuberg Highlanders
(Approximately 6 min read)
After looking forward to three practices as a team this week, I was disappointed when my throat started scratching and nose running after the game last Saturday. I missed the second half of our World Girls Hockey Weekend event and Tuesday’s practice. Thankfully, we had Thursday and Friday ice. We finished late on Friday, getting off the ice at 9:30pm and had to be back at the rink at 6am for our road trip. My watch clocked me at 2.5 hours sleep.
Despite how exhausted I was feeling, I’m a terrible bus sleeper. As girls sprawled out on the floor and across makeshift wood cots across the aisles, I starred through burning eyes at the pink of the sunrise hitting the grey cliff-sides of the mountains we passed. We drove from Bolzano to Bratislava, a nine hour trek and we arrived directly to the rink, with less than two hours to puck drop.
Game 1 – Bratislava
The rink was the host of the 2020 U18 Women’s World Championships and the rink was plastered with signage marking the event. As we played soccer and went through our off ice warm up, I still wasn’t sure if I would be playing forward or defense.
Turns out, I would be playing both. Franziska (Kika) Stocker and I would begin as a d-pairing, and then move up as an offensive line with 14 year old Manuela (Heidi) Heidenberger.
The entire pregame conversation was about every line having a great first shift. After being plagued by early goals 10 to 15 seconds into periods, it was critical that we start the right way. Instead, I began with a turn-over on a d-zone reverse and, on the next shift, a terrible power-play turn over from my new spot on the right side of the umbrella. Lost in my thoughts, I was deriding myself for being a poor leader and not stepping up to even average day expectations for myself. I walked down the bench for a mental reset, took a deep breath, and reassured coach I wasn’t injured. Things got better from there.
Fewer mistakes, some mixed success on face-offs, and a couple of scoring chances, brought us into the first intermission tied 0-0. Unfortunately, the second period we fell into what is becoming a pattern for us: Bratislava scored 40 seconds in. Morale stayed high and we fought them off for another 8 minutes, when we went down 2-0. The bench got tense from there. Emotions flared about communication on who was meant to be on the ice, particularly with confusion caused by Kika and I switching between forward and defense for special teams. The intermission between the second and third couldn’t have come soon enough.
However, rallying cries for unity and perseverance weren’t enough to turn things around in the third. Once again, a goal-against came early. In honesty, my still-sick lungs had me sucking so much wind in this very cold rink that I missed many of the goals while hunched over catching my breath on the bench, but if I were to guess what went wrong, we were struggling most with turn overs on our breakouts and I imagine most of the five goals against were a result of lost battles on transition.
Post-game we went to a Slovakian pub and, as is often the case when traveling, there were no vegan options on the menu. Thankfully, I had anticipated this would be the case and had cooked a double portion of my pre-game bus-meal, which I ate before we got to the restaurant. I don’t think sweet potato fries and bread would have fueled me through the second game.
Game 2 – Highlanders Rematch
Back at the hotel, despite only a few hours of sleep the day before, I struggled to catch up on much needed rest. It took several hours to fall asleep and I was jolted awake at 4am with stomach pain – unusual for me, but I guess expected with traveling sometimes. Breakfast at the hotel was limited on options, so I ate my leftover oats from the day before, and at 730am we climbed back on the bus for a 3 hour ride to Graz, Austria.
We started the game on the kill after an early penalty but the first was evenly matched. We traded chances but it wasn’t until 16 minutes in that Valentina (Betta) Bettarini fired a slapshot from the point that pinged off the crossbar and in. It was our first time getting on the board first this season.
We held them scoreless in the second and had a few chances in the first half of the third. I was kicking myself for not burying a net front feed from 16 year old Emma Cereghini, when she was rotated into my line with Kika.
The most notable thing of the third was the reffing. Every once in a while we get refs that appear to just not want to be there or don’t see the games as legitimate and games tend to get out of hand when that happens. The calls became really inconsistent: there were open ice hits (one that caused a stoppage of play for an injury), full body contact step-ups on wingers coming up the boards for the breakout, and slashes to the goalie on covered pucks. In one particularly obvious missed call, I was cross-checked in the face on a draw and wrestled to the ice with my opponent and her stick landing on my neck.
It’s an interesting discussion, for another time, to consider whether body-checking should be allowed in the women’s game, but I always find it interesting when contact that would be illegal in the men’s game, is some how over looked in the women’s game. I find head contact, for example, is much more prevalent in the women’s game than it was when I was playing midget Boy’s hockey, despite now being the average size instead of the smallest. I wasn’t hurt on the cross-check, and we won possession on the face-off, so no harm done, but in men’s hockey I would have lost all of my teeth. Is it the cages and therefore lack of blood that discourage refs from concerning themselves with the severity of these calls?
Regardless, the game went on, and with five minutes to go in the third, Neuberg tied it up. Three-on-three overtime, was a back and forth of evenly traded chances until Elenora Bonafini managed to put one away for the win!
We were told we couldn’t cool down because there was a men’s game after and we weren’t allowed in the same space, but we stretched in the locker room and climbed back on the bus for another 6 hour journey. We had pizza delivered for the bus ride and this time my order was successfully vegan.
Thankfully since the game was relatively early, we were back by 11pm. I was completely wiped – a zombie returning to my apartment. I feel for the girls who had to be back at work and school the next morning. I also was left thinking about the young players on our team who endured that weekend of travel with little opportunity to play. The problem with having so few girls playing is that there isn’t an appropriate level for these players to get ice time and develop. Practice is never going to be sufficient and I don’t like to see that these girls who have a ton of potential not having the proper opportunities to blossom into the players they could be. The only solution I see is getting more girls playing and I love the IIHF’s World Girls Hockey Weekend for exactly that reason.
This upcoming weekend we play a double header, at home, against EHV Sabres Vienna. They are currently at the top of the standings, undefeated with 6 wins, and sure to be a difficult opponent.
I’m Jacquie and I’m an American hockey player living in Bolzano, Italy. I write about hockey, sustainability, and food.