OTTAWA – “I’m one of the originals!” Yekaterina Pashkevich says with a proud smile, noting she was with the first ever Russian women’s hockey team in 1993.
Two decades later, she’s back after a seven-year absence, trying to help her country’s revival—and aiming for a medal at Sochi.
“One thing I don’t have is an Olympic medal,” she started, “and I think our team is within reach to get one. We’ll go for it.”
This year’s Russian team is a surprise qualifier for the semi-finals today. In 2012, Russia played five games and lost them all. This year, the team has played four games—and won them all!
But the return of Pashkevich, at 40 the oldest player at WW 2013, is quite extraordinary. She played at the Women’s Worlds and Olympics between 1997 and 2006, retiring after the Turin Olympics at age 33 to focus on her job as an electrician in Boston—and play a little football, American style!
But that’s jumping ahead. Let’s go back to 1993 and 1994, the dawn of women’s hockey in Russia, and the start of Pashkevich’s journey which took her to a life in Boston.
“In 1994, we were just a group of girls who started playing hockey in St. Petersburg," she began. "The national team was just starting out. We were trying to help women’s hockey to develop. We toured in North America, playing games in New York, New Jersey, Boston, Ottawa, Toronto, and then in the Brampton tournament. When we were in Boston, there were some conversations about doing a player exchange and me staying there to learn about North American hockey, so there was an agreement with me and our coaches after we finished the tour in Brampton that I would go back to Boston. When we were there we played at the rink at MIT against various teams. So when people at MIT knew I was staying, they asked if I’d coach their team.”
Pashkevich was just 21 years old and learning the game herself, but she was open to new opportunities. She stayed eight years and took the team from varsity to NCAA, Division III. “It was unbelievable,” she said of her eight years at MIT. “They were just a club team when I got there. I thought it was a great opportunity to learn the language and the North American style of play and interact with other coaches. I had a lot of confidence I could do it. And then to get into Division III was amazing.”
Pashkevich left MIT in 2002 to play football in the IWFL (Independent Women’s Football League), first with the New Hampshire Freedom and later with the Boston Rampage.
“When I moved to the U.S. I fell in love with football,” she said casually. “It’s fast, physical, requires a lot of thinking, tactics, similar to hockey in that manner. I wanted to give it a try and was actually pretty good at it. I played for quite a few years. I was a running back and full back. I loved the sport but it’s too hard on my body. Now that I’m older I’m done with football but I’ll stick with hockey.”
After playing both football and hockey for a few years, Pashkevich retired from the ice game to focus on the grid iron, but a knee injury forced her out of that game a few years ago.
“When I recovered, I decided I wanted to play hockey again. Go figure. I quit football and hockey for a few years, so I was actually coming back from nothing. I’m pretty proud to come back at my age and skate at this level. I’m skating with 18-year-olds! I’m old enough to be their mother.”
Pashkevich played in both a men’s and women’s league to get back into shape and get a feel for the game again, and then last year she made the decision to come back to the rink with Team Russia.
“Last year I went to Burlington to watch the world championship,” she explained. “I saw the team play and decided to give it a try again. I talked to the coaches, so I got invited to training camp in the summer and stuck with it. I realized I still had some strength and energy for the game, and when I was selected for the team I was so happy. I’m trying to help however I can. I’m not what I used to be now that I’m 40, but I can teach the youngsters and help however I can.”
So Pashkevich pursues the Olympic dream, but once Sochi is done, so will she be.
“The plan is to play at the Olympics, but then that will be it,” she stated with firm declaration.
A journey that began as a pioneer in 1993 will come to an end in 2014, after which Pashkevich can settle down in Boston and focus on electrical jobs. “I love it!”