For the 28-year-old forward, who is the newly crowned Czech women’s hockey player of the year and the SDHL’s player-voted MVP with Brynas IF, the opportunity to compete in her fifth Women’s Worlds has been a long time coming. After the cancellation of the 2020 tournament and the postponement of the 2021 tournament originally slated for May, enduring the 10-hour flight from Europe to Calgary was, relatively speaking, a breeze.
“We are super-excited,” Mrazova told IIHF.com. “Obviously we were really sad when they said [the tournament] wasn’t going to happen, but then they said it would just be pushed back. So we were really happy about that. I think it’s worked out. Even if it’s at the start of the hockey season, we’ll get some good preparation, as there are a lot of events coming up.”
Naturally, playing the Women’s Worlds in a bubble due to the global pandemic poses its own challenges for all 10 participating teams. After a seven-day pre-tournament quarantine in Europe, including regular COVID-19 PCR testing, Mrazova and the other members of the 25-player Czech roster entered a mandatory five-day quarantine in Calgary.
Battling newly promoted Denmark in the Group B opener is one thing. But how did the Czechs battle the boredom of being cooped up in their hotel rooms?
According to Mrazova, a typical quarantine day could include yoga, a full team workout on Zoom, and other video meetings. “I was also trying to do a stickhandling thing where I shoot a ball into a cup,” the 165-cm, 62-kg centre said with a laugh. “The person I chatted with most was probably Dominika Laskova. We’ve been FaceTiming. We also started a Snapchat group. As far as TV shows, I really like The 100 and Prison Break.”
Unlike those shows, the Czechs won’t need to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape or escape from jail. (In other words, no teams will be relegated at the 2021 tournament.) However, under new head coach Tomas Pacina, they do hope to come out with all guns blazing, surpassing the Czech Republic’s best-ever goal difference of 14-8 (2019).
Mrazova, who has two goals and five assists in 16 career Women’s Worlds games, is poised to reprise her line with fellow Brynas forward Denisa Krizova and HIFK’s Michaela Pejzlova from the 2019 tournament.
“The biggest difference, I think, in our team right now is that there aren’t that big gaps between our lines,” Mrazova said. “We have four really good lines, which I think in the past we struggled a little bit with. That makes the team really strong. I’m excited to see what we can do.”
Playing good two-way hockey is the focus for this Alena Mills-captained team. Top goalie Klara Peslarova can’t be asked to do it all by herself if the Czechs reach the quarter-finals.
If Mrazova can even approximate her performance alongside Lara Stalder, the Swiss Brynas ace who led the SDHL in scoring for the second straight year (82 points), the Czech Republic has a shot at making a run at WinSport Arena.
Mrazova praised Stalder: “The connection on the ice we have together, it’s just something special. We think kind of similarly, I would say sometimes the same. We read off each other pretty well and expect what the other one’s gonna do. It’s just been amazing to play with her. She’s an awesome person. She’s an awesome, hard-working player. I just enjoy every time I’m on the ice with her.”
How did Mrazova become a Bulldog? It goes back to her lone season with the CWHL’s Boston Blades. After winning the 2013 Clarkson Cup, she got a hot tip from a teammate.
“[Ex-Bulldog] Jessica Koizumi was playing for the Blades and she was like, ‘You should go to college,’” Mrazova recalled. “I said, ‘I’m trying to do that, but it’s hard because I can’t really speak English!’ And she said, ‘Well, I’ll contact my coaches at UMD.’ They helped me to go to UMD.”
Her language skills improved rapidly amidst the 10,000 students at the public university in Duluth. After her 2018 graduation, she took her playmaking fluency to the NWHL’s Connecticut Whale, where she had 12 points in 15 games in 2018-19. Having suited up in both the now-defunct CWHL and the NWHL, she has a straightforward outlook on the future of pro women’s hockey in North America.
“I would like to see one league with the best players. But I know it’s hard. There are a lot of politics involved.”
Mrazova hopes that the passion that IIHF fans in Prague and Ostrava showed for the men’s Worlds in 2004 and 2015 – not to mention the upcoming 2024 tournament – will carry over to the women’s game domestically as well.
“Playing in the U.S. and then in Sweden, I think we could definitely do better in the Czech Republic. There are a lot of girls who, after playing with boys, try to go to different countries because they offer better conditions. I think the support could be so much better when it comes to television and social media. Hockey is, in my opinion, the number one sport in the Czech Republic. Obviously, there are some differences between women’s hockey and men’s hockey. I’d say we have to look at it with different eyes to see the nice stuff in women’s hockey as well. Every year they’re trying to improve some stuff, but it’s going to take some time.”
For now, Mrazova’s focus is on earning wins in Group B, which also features Hungary, Germany, and Japan. If you think the Czechs are just happy to be in Calgary, think again. Despite being outshot 43-17 in their 3-1 quarter-final loss to the Finns, the eventual silver medalists in 2019, they made a brave stand. And they want to go even further this year.
There is, of course, another big goal on the horizon: the 2022 Beijing Olympics. The Czech Republic has not participated in the six previous Olympic women’s hockey tournaments. It is a long shot that Mrazova will get to emulate Joe Sakic by winning a Winter Games gold medal as he did with Canada in 2002.
However, the Czechs will host an Olympic qualification tournament (11 to 14 November) in Chomutov, an historic city of 80,000 situated an hour and half by car from Prague. Going up against Hungary, Norway, and another team yet to be determined, Mrazova dares to dream big.
“This will be my fourth Olympic qualification tournament. In the past, we were always in the hardest group and played against the strongest teams. This year, I think that we are the strongest team in our group. Our hope is to make the Olympic Games. It’s going to be super-fun. Obviously, there will be a lot of nerves in the tournament, but we are hosting, and it’s a little bit of an advantage for us. I really hope we can make it.”