VIENNA – The Dutch women’s national team has joined the Elite Women’s Hockey League (EWHL) and will play its first game against Vienna Flyers. The Netherlands is hoping to give its women tougher competition in a nation with few options for the women to play competitive games.
The EWHL started in Austria in 2004 and has since included club teams from Austria and some of its neighbouring countries – the Czech Republic, Germany, Italy, Slovakia and Slovenia.
The league now consists of three Austrian teams (Salzburg, Sabres Vienna, Vienna Flyers), two squads from Slovakia (Slovan Bratislava, Martin), one from Germany (Planegg), one from Slovenia (Terme Maribor) and the Dutch national team as the newest addition.
The teams are usually the top club teams from their countries and play games both within their domestic leagues in addition to the higher level games in the EWHL. The national champions also have additional games in the IIHF European Women’s Champions Cup, facing teams from Europe’s leading nations in women’s hockey.
The teams play in rather non-traditional women’s hockey countries. Austria has just 644 female players, Slovakia 288, the Netherlands 175 and Slovenia 88. The countries range from 10th to 23rd in the IIHF Women’s World Ranking.
“Games against the EWHL teams will help us to become a medal contender in the World Women’s Championship Division II in 2012,” said Hans van Rijssel, technical director of for the Netherlands.
“To be honest, we don’t know what results to expect in the EWHL. We are looking forward to playing games against teams that are on the same or a higher level. In and around the Netherlands it’s difficult for us.”
Within the country there’s just one tournament for women’s teams. The rest of the season, players compete in boys’ or men’s leagues. Playing in the EWHL will give the top players a chance to play competitive hockey against women, improving their skills.
The team agreed to play most of its games on the road, hosting only two games. It will travel to Austria for three trips of several days. In exchange, the other clubs will pay for accommodation, food and on-ice officials when the Dutch play their “home games” on the road.
The Netherlands becoming the eighth EWHL team is a good fit with the ambitions of the league. “Adding the Netherlands fits well to our fundamental idea of the league – to develop women’s hockey in countries that don’t have enough teams at a high level to help elite players and the national teams,” said Martin Kogler, the league’s general manager. “That’s why we in accordance with the other teams decided to welcome Team Netherlands even though they’re not a classic club team.”
The season is already underway. The Sabres Vienna and Slovan Bratislava lead the standings with two wins in as many games. On Thursday, the Dutch will play their first games in Vienna with two games against the Sabres and contests against the Flyers and Planegg in the four-game, four-day trip.