Spotlight year

Czech forward Kaltounkova impressed at U18

10.07.2018
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Czech U18 women’s national team player Kristyna Kaltounkova is on Team Blue with players from 14 countries. Photo: Martin Merk

Many international female hockey stars have first hit the headlines at the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship where young women who may turn out to become future medallists enter the international spotlight for the first time.

One of the players who made a name for herself was Kristyna Kaltounkova when the event was held in Dmitrov in the Moscow Region half a year ago. Just 15 at that time, she was third in scoring among European players and out of these the best European scorer born later than 2000. Despite having two more years of U18 eligibility, she contributed three goals and seven points in five games for the Czechs while having a +6 rating that was only topped by some American and Finnish players.

Not surprisingly the Czech Ice Hockey Association selected her as one of eight players who currently hone their skills and work on their fitness at the 2018 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp held bi-annually at the Sport Institute of Finland.

“It was the best international tournament for me so far,” she said about the U18 Women’s Worlds. “It helped me a lot and the world knows a bit more about me than it used to. We represented the Czech national team in a positive way. We don’t have to regret anything because sixth place is not bad at all.”

The Czechs started in the lower group where they had a 2-1 record with wins over Finland and Switzerland and a loss to Germany but lost 3-1 to Canada in the quarter-finals.

Kaltounkova already started skating as a little girl. “I started 14 years ago in my hometown of Vlasim,” she said. “I saw my brother and wanted to do the same thing and my parents supported me. At home I was often with rollerblades just to skate more.”

After Vlasim she played a few years in Mlada Boleslav followed by a few years at Dukla Jihlava before moving to the U.S. in 2017.

“I was looking for a high school and the Vermont Academy was there. It was very easy for me, they explained me everything and told me a lot about the school. I’m going to finish high school in two years and am going to the Colgate University. I already got an offer from Switzerland. I’m just going to see what will be the future but for the next six years it will be the U.S. with finishing high school and playing college hockey,” she said.

“It’s great, the culture changed a lot and I love it. It’s kind of cold up there but it’s great and very green,” she said after playing one year in Vermont. “The hockey is good too. I play with my classmates and roommates. We all know each other. We’re one family.”

For a few days her new hockey family is Team Blue. In the player program of the 2018 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp the focus is on top female U18 players from countries outside of North America. Players from 22 countries in four continents are split into mixed teams and the team staff is also multicultural. She’s on the offence with players from Finland, Latvia or Switzerland while having former Japanese Olympian Kanae Aoki among her coaches.

“I already knew some players, it’s great to meet them again. It’s a great opportunity to show how we play hockey and for me to prepare before I go back to the U.S. It’s great to play with the girls and be under the best coaches in the world,” she said about the opportunity at this camp.

The players have a full schedule in Finland that starts in the morning and ends sometimes with late games in the night. There’s a lot to learn on and off the ice. After starting with fitness testing and skills training, there are sessions on athleticism, weight training, cool down, skating, anti-doping, integrity, nutrition, controlling distraction, talking about hockey and leadership. On Wednesday there’s also some team building with a flow park and a Finnish sauna experience. And then there’s every day the usual hockey life with practices and games against the other mixed teams that want to be analysed too.

For her there hasn’t been a particular eye-opener at the camp yet. “But there are so many things on the ice, off the ice and in the speeches and presentations to learn. It’s not one specific thing but all the things here that are really helpful,” she said.

Kaltounkova will have two more high-school years before she can start studying and playing NCAA hockey with the Colgate University. But here dreams are with the Czech national team.

“I want to get to the Olympics and want to win some medals at the World Championships but it’s a long way. We have to work every single day to reach these dreams but everyone has it in their hands,” she said.

If her progress continues, she could be one of the strongest players at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship in Japan and may soon become a candidate for the women’s senior national team that will play in the expanded 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship not far from here in Espoo, Finland, next spring.

“I haven’t talked to my coaches yet but we talked about it last year. I have no idea what’s going to be next but I think I’ll visit some camps and see if they want to have me. But I have time. I’m just 16. I just want to play the best level I can,” she said.

MARTIN MERK

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