Laskova gives Czechs options
by Derek O'Brien|11 NOV 2021
Czech defender Dominika Laskova celebrates a goal against Denmark at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
As the Czech Republic gets set for Final Olympic Qualification Group C on home ice in Chomutov beginning on Thursday, coach Tomas Pacina has some lineup flexibility thanks to Dominika Laskova, who he normally plays on defence but can use up front as well if needed.  

“I play defence on the national team and play forward in Merrimack College,” said Laskova.

Like many female players in her country, Laskova started playing hockey as the only girl on boys’ teams. Despite her size of 164 cm compared to the guys she played with and against, she adapted to the demands of the position, which included bodychecking. 

“That’s the fun part, right?” she asked rhetorically. 

“I grew up playing defence my whole childhood until I was 15, then when I started playing with the girls, they asked me what I played with the boys. I lied and said forward because I wanted to score goals,” she laughed. 

She then played wing for Slavia Prague in the top Czech women’s league. After graduating high school, Laskova went overseas and spent one year at the Hockey Training Institute in Mulmur, Ontario before heading to Merrimack College in North Andover, Massachusetts in 2018.

“Two years ago, Tomas called and asked me if I wanted to try out for the national team, and I said, ‘Of course’,” Laskova recalled. “Then he told me I was going to play defence, which I hadn’t played for six years, I said, ‘OK, this is going to be interesting,’ but it’s kind of like riding a bike.”

While she primarily plays back with the national team and up front at Merrimack, her versatility gives the coaches of both teams some options.

“In college, when we had some injuries on defence I played there a few games,” Laskova explained. “Now I play centre so I can play in both ends. Even the coaches on the national team said it’s useful to have players like that, so I hope they feel they can trust me enough to use me on defence or forward.”

Before the call from Pacina, Laskova had previous experience in the Czech national women’s program as a teenager when she was a forward. She first appeared at the U18 Women’s World Championship at age 15 at home in Prerov in 2012. She then appeared in two more U18 Worlds in the next two years, winning a bronze in 2014 in Budapest. At the senior women’s level, she was a member of the team in 2012/13 during Olympic Qualifiers in Weiden, Germany and the Women’s World Championship in Ottawa. 

“I was the youngest player on the team,” said Laskova. “As much as I’d like to say I have that (Olympic Qualification) experience, I’m pretty sure I’m going to be just as nervous as I was many years ago.”

While she had been part of World Championships at lower divisions and other international events since then, last August in Calgary was Laskova’s first elite-level Women’s World Championship since then. She scored one goal back in 2013 as a forward at age 16, but showed she still had a flair for offence seven years later despite the position change with four goals, which led all defenders in the tournament. 

As for the team, the Czechs were looking for a top-five finish for the first time ever and were very close to doing so. After a perfect 4-0 record in Group B, they lost a heartbreaking quarter-final game 1-0 to the reigning silver medalists from Finland, with the Czechs holding a 29-20 edge in shots. The next day, they then lost 3-2 to a Japanese team they had beaten 4-0 just six days earlier, ending their tournament with a relatively disappointing seventh-place finish.

“We were feeling very good against Finland but we lost and were down, obviously,” said Laskova. “Then we didn’t even have 24 hours. I don’t mean that as an excuse because it was the same for the other teams, but it was a heartbreaking situation for us and it was really tough to get mentally up for that game against Japan.

“After the tournament, we had a lot of conversations between players and coaches and we all agree that all bad things happen for a reason,” said Laskova. “We had wanted to make this the best World Championship we’d ever had, but what happened happened and we’ve moved on from it.

“We’ve learned from our mistakes and I’m pretty sure it’s going to help us in this coming week to be successful.”

After two months of playing back at Merrimack and the rest of her teammates scattered throughout North America and Europe, the Czechs came back together a week ago and won a couple of pre-tournament games against Denmark, who will compete in Qualification Group D in Fussen, Germany.

“I would say they are on the same level as Hungary, who we just played in Calgary, so I would say it was a good team to play against,” Laskova said about the Danish team. As for their other two Group C opponents, she said: “We haven’t played Norway in a few years and, to be honest, I’ve never played Poland in my life, so we don’t really know what to expect from them.”

The situation will be a bit different this week than it was in Calgary. First of all, the Czechs will be playing at home in front of fans. Secondly, they’ll be the favourites to win this tournament but with that comes added pressure, as one slip up could be very costly. 

“Obviously, we all know and acknowledge that on paper we’re the strongest team in this tournament, but it’s hockey,” said Laskova. “It’s just one game against each team, so we have to be prepared for all of them.”

The Czechs will have almost exactly the same roster as they took to Calgary, led by star goaltender Klara Peslarova and captain Alena Mills but will be missing forward Tereza Vanisova due to a suspension in the Swedish league. An addition to the lineup is former Olympic bronze-winning speedskater Karolina Erbanova, who is attempting to become a two-sport Olympian. 

The Czech women have never qualified for the Winter Olympics before, but Laskova believes they can not only get to Beijing but compete for a medal there. After all, she and many of her teammates have medalled at the U18 level in 2008 and 2014, and those players have now come of age to make this the strongest Czech women’s team we’ve ever seen. 

Of her birth year, Laskova said: “1996 is probably the strongest year we’ve ever had in Czech women’s hockey, and it’s getting better and better every year.”

Still just 24 years of age, Laskova seems a good bet to be part of the Czech national women’s team for years to come. Otherwise, this is her last year of NCAA eligibility as she graduated from Merrimack last spring and is currently working on a master’s degree in exercise science. Beyond that?

“I would really like to try the NWHL, which is one of my future goals,” said Laskova. “Another option is Sweden, but if I moved back to Europe, I don’t think I’d be willing to move back to North America again, so I’m thinking about staying another few years.”