ZURICH – Every year the women of the hockey world play a championship event, and every year a small selection of players from previous years are no longer on the team. They’re replaced by rookies and newcomers who have worked their way to the top, but the old guard, who often goes quietly into the night, is an important part of the game’s history.
In the last year or two, many significant players have retired from the women’s game, paving the way for a total of 47 players here in Switzerland who are appearing in their first top level event.
Perhaps surprisingly, five Canadians from Vancouver have since retired. Four announced their intentions last year while Jennifer Botterill retired only last month. Becky Kellar, who has two children, played in the CWHL this past season but walked away from national team obligations. Gina Kingsbury also left last year and has been coaching at the Okanagan Hockey Academy in Penticton, British Columbia. Carla MacLeod and Colleen Sostorics also retired.
Kellar and Botterill have played on all four Olympic teams (1998-2010) while Sostorics won two Olympics gold and three golds at the World Women’s Championship. MacLeod has two Olympic golds and one WWC gold.
Botterill will continue her career as a public speaker and giving skills seminars in Toronto. MacLeod is the assistant coach of the women’s hockey team at Mount Royal University and also hopes to pursue a career in broadcasting.
Two prominent Americans from Vancouver 2010 are also not with Team USA this year. Natalie Darwitz is taking a year off. She’s still working as an assistant coach for the women’s hockey team at the University of Minnesota. Jinelle Zaugg-Siergiej has retired altogether and is now the head coach of the Arrowhead High School (Wisconsin) girls’ hockey team. She also runs the Crazy Eights Hockey Camp.
Switzerland’s own Monika Leuenberger had an incredible career starting with the first ever IIHF World Women’s Championship in 1990. She played 19 years with the national team, retiring after the 2009 World Women’s, and has continued to live in Zurich coaching boys in the 10-12 age group. As well, the 38-year-old was an assistant coach to Daniela Diaz (former player and sister of current Swiss player, Rafael) for the ZSC Lions women’s team which won a championship this past season, the team’s first.
Finland’s current roster includes ten players who have never played at the senior level before, and that’s in large measure because of six recent big-name players retiring. Kati Kovalainen, who won six bronze medals at the WWC between 1997 and 2009, is now a nurse in Helsinki.
Three others still play at the club level although they no longer have the time or ambitions to play internationally. These are Heidi Pelttari, Mari Saarinen, and Marjo Voutilainen, all first-class players for many years with the Finnish national team. Saija Sirvio is taking at least a year off to have a baby, while Emma Laaksonen, one of the all-time greats, is focusing on her job in the stock market in Finland and simply doesn’t have the time to commit to the national team, although she still plays with Espoo.
Three prominent Swedes have also recently called it quits. The sensational Maria Rooth, a key player in the Mirakel of 2006, is now an assistant coach under Shannon Miller at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the most international of all NCAA teams. Joa Elfsberg, who played from 1997 to 2007, still plays club hockey. Ann-Louise Edstrand, meanwhile, played from 1994 to 2008, but an injury forced her to miss 2009 and she has been out of the national scene ever since.
Four notable Russians have also faded to the background. Yelena Bialkovskaya, who played for eleven years for her country (1997-2007), works at a magazine store in Moscow. Tatyana Sotnikova is out of the picture for an undetermined period of time after just giving birth. She played in three Olympics during her career (1999-2010). Kristina Petrovskaya still plays in Russia and goalie Irina Gashennikova, who is among the leaders in several IIHF records categories including most tournaments, most games played, and most minutes played, still stops pucks for Fakal Chelyabinsk.
That brings us up to date with the new crop of players at 2011 WW. From Erika Grahm to Natalie Spooner, to Lara Stalder, Tea Villila, and Kendall Coyne, a new group of teens and young stars hope to leave their mark on the game like Gashennikova, Darwitz, Leuenberger, and Botterill.
To you from failing hands we throw the torch. Be yours to hold it high.