VIERUMÄKI, Finland – Two weeks of camps in Vierumäki are over. The recent 2014 IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp brought 16 of the top nations and their best female under-18 players together with the aim of increasing competitiveness and closing the gap between North America and the other countries from Europe and Asia.
“The objective of the camp was to have girls under 18 of the countries that have qualified to be invited with the potential of competing in the Olympics in the future and to show them what it takes to be an elite athlete and what the surroundings are, and show the adults that we bring here to work as team staff what it takes and what the surroundings are. We had great staff and members here. We had an intense schedule but we achieved the goals we set,” said IIHF Sport Manager Aku Nieminen, who served as Camp Director.
“We really worked on fundamental skills like running or jumping that, no matter what sport you play, are essential. It’s great what we hear on the progress. They show up on the first day and there’s quite a little work to do and after two or three days the progress is already massive.”
The girls and team staff from their countries were on site for over six days and had perfect conditions at the Sport Institute of Finland.
“The camp was as good as it was last year from the players’ performance I saw. We had a big difference before when it comes to strength and conditioning and we continued the progress. The countries have realized that they need to send their best athletes here,” said IIHF Council member Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer, who chairs the Women’s Committee and served as camp chairperson. “It’s great that we still can have these good mentors here every year and that they took their time.”
The camp was run in Vierumäki in 2012 and 2014 along with the IIHF Hockey Development Camp for girls, and in 2011 in Bratislava, Slovakia, and in 2013 in Sheffield, Great Britain.
“In the four years we have come a long way with the overall calibre of our staff leadership and the players for sure and we’re starting to see that in the U18 Women’s World Championships,” said Melody Davidson, the Assistant Camp Chairperson who brought in her vast experience as former coach and current general manager of Hockey Canada’s women’s national team programs.
“It’s been a great week and it’s terrific that the IIHF backs it and supports it and that the federations buy into it. I think the biggest thing we see is the understanding and education of what a high-performance camp is and what high-performance athletes look like. There are a lot of the same staff here but they’re so much more aware and so much more experienced now and they take it back to the countries and you see it at the championships that are much more competitive.”
Taking away intimidation
The players were first educated according to their playing position and were then allotted to six different teams with girls from different nationalities.
Davidson can also see that thanks to the mixed teams the players from the different nations are not afraid of each other. They know they can compete with each other and the intimidation when opposing players from big nations is gone.
“They play without disparity in the mixed teams. They’re getting better because of who they’re with,” said Jim Johannson, USA Hockey's assistant executive director of hockey operations.
Four-official system for women’s hockey evaluated
Also a program with officials was run during the camp who did not only work on and off the ice but also tested the system with two referees and two linesmen as it’s used in four of the World Championship events on the men’s side.
“We were pleased with the group of the game officials. They worked hard and showed big interest in being coached and working in the four-official system. We brought in instructors who have experience with the system in pro leagues such as Pavel Halas, Thomas Schurr and Jacquie Palm as well as Dave Smith from the NHL,” said IIHF Officiating Manager Konstantin Komissarov.
“Now as the camp is over we will evaluate what are the obstacles in implementing the system in top women’s competitions. We’re still in a process of recollecting data. Officiating with four officials shouldn’t be a fashion. It should be done to allow high quality of officiating for the participating teams. We need to be sure about the benefits of having four officials for the quality of the game and for the benefit of the teams.”
Strategies for the future
The 2014 IIHF Women’s High Performance Camp also included a lot of discussions, ideas and plans for the future of the female game.
“We decided to run the Women’s Hockey Summit this year where we wanted to review what happened since the last such meeting in 2010 and what has happened in all the countries. The game has become more competitive but we still need to continue with the development of women’s hockey in the countries,” Kolbenheyer said. “In the Yearly Training Plan sessions we worked with those in charge for female hockey in their countries.”
The Yearly Training Plan program is a new initiate in women’s hockey that replaces the Ambassador and Mentor Program to allow the member national associations receiving IIHF funding and mentorship support for their women’s hockey program more efficiently and tailor-made for the countries’ needs than before.
“The Yearly Training Plan program was something new. It’s quite important to have a plan and whatever you’re doing is based on a bigger plan and justified to that. That’s what we’re aiming with the program. We want to continue assist the associations in addressing women’s high performance development but what we will require is that they push it a little further and design long-term strategies from which they build yearly training plans, which we then help them to achieve,” Nieminen said.
“What we had in the Ambassador and Mentor program will be replaced by this new program where we continue helping our members with mentorship and athlete ambassadors they may need as long as there’s a good plan that justifies them.”
He also said that the extensive and innovative list on recommendation and ideas from the Women’s Hockey Summit are going to be reviewed by the IIHF Women’s Committee, which can make recommendations for the IIHF Council and eventually to the Congress.
“The addition of the Summit and the Yearly Training Plan sessions are going to provide a lot of dividends down the road as we go to Korea and beyond. It’s been great work done by the people who came to these events. They will leave thinking ‘wow, that’s a lot of work to do’ but at the same time they’ll be excited about the tools they have,” Davidson said.
“We got plenty of ideas to list at the summit. We have to take a look at that. I feel strongly that whoever the eight countries are that go to Korea, their federations have to invest in a full-time team in the final year, or at least six months prior to the Olympics. That’s something we’ve talked about and countries are talking about that to take their game to another level. Everything we do in between is going to help but the icing on the cake is the final step and if you go full time you take them all to another level.”