Neubauerova: “I’m beyond excited”
by Lucas Aykroyd|26 JAN 2022
Forward Noemi Neubauerova, who had five points at the 2021 Women's Worlds, hopes to provide a spark as the Czech women make their Olympic debut in Beijing.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
Noemi Neubauerova’s goal is in sight. That doesn’t mean Prague’s O2 Arena, which the 22-year-old forward can see from her hotel room while the Czech Olympic women’s team is in isolation to avoid COVID-19. Rather, the goal is Beijing and an historic medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics. And everything is speeding up now. It’s almost time to go.

Neubauerova turned heads with her breakout performance at the 2021 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship in Calgary. Even though Czechia finished an underwhelming seventh, the Colgate University senior placed third in team scoring (1+4=5) in her third Women’s Worlds. And “Nemo” is as creative on the ice as she is effervescent in conversation.

One of the 168-cm, 69-kg skater’s highlight reel plays involved banking the puck off the side boards to herself before setting up defender Dominika Laskova for a goal in a 4-0 group-stage win over Japan. It was easy to see how the extra work Neubauerova has put in – from video work to post-practice skills sessions – has paid off. She was named Colgate’s most improved player in 2019-20, and the best is yet to come.
At November’s Olympic qualification tournament in Chomutov, Neubauerova added another five points. The Czechs won three straight games by an aggregate of 24-2, including a 5-1 victory over Women’s Worlds rival Hungary, to make it to the Winter Games for the first time in history.

Now, after one more practice in Prague, it’ll be time for Neubauerova and her teammates to board an 11-hour flight to Beijing and focus on the 2 February Olympic opener against China at the Wukesong Sports Centre. caught up with Neubauerova on Tuesday.

How do you feel about the chance to go to your first Olympics?

I don’t even know what to say! I’m beyond excited. And a little, I wouldn’t say scared, but just stressed with the whole COVID situation. But I feel prepared. I’ve done everything up to this point to be ready for such a big event. So I’m very excited looking forward to it, and I hope everything goes well. That we all get there safely and everything works out.

What’s your daily routine been like while isolating in Prague?

Usually I just wake up and get breakfast at eight o’clock. We have daily PCR testing at 10. Then, today, for example, I did a workout with a couple of the girls on the team over Zoom. So it took a little longer than expected! It was about two and a half hours because we had some technological difficulties, but we figured that out. Shower after the workout.

Then some calls with my family – got to get that in there! Then I start on schoolwork, do some reading and homework. Usually there’s one or two meetings with Team Czechia. Then some calls with friends that are literally two rooms away from me, but I can’t see them! And so on. So it’s busy, but in a good way.

Have you had time to kick back and relax with some TV?

Oh yeah, Netflix. Although today, I haven’t had any time to watch, but I usually find some time to watch at least one or two episodes of The Office.
Speaking of official matters, you personally had a very strong Women’s Worlds in Calgary. What did it mean to you when you were named one of the three best Czech players along with goalie Klara Peslarova and defender Dominika Laskova?

Oh, it was exciting for sure. I knew with all the hard work and everything we did as a team, we really accomplished a lot. But at the same time, I was sad because we lost the quarter-final to Finland [1-0]. I definitely would not have gotten that award if it wasn’t for my teammates who helped me literally every shift and picked me up when I was down.

You guys were disappointed when you lost your last game 3-2 to Japan. But you bounced back at the Olympic qualification tournament. What has this learning process been like for you as a group?

I think first of all, we had a whole new philosophy, playbook and everything. And even though we’ve spent a year and a half or two years dealing with this whole new philosophy, it was still very different from what we’ve all done in past years.

Looking at the Women’s Worlds, we did really well, despite the setbacks against Finland and Japan. Overall, we showed we could adapt really fast with our play, and we’ve grown a lot over the past two years. That gave us a lot of confidence going into the qualification tournament and now going into the Olympics as well.

You had zero points in your first Women’s Worlds in Kamloops in 2016 and also in Espoo in 2019. Besides maturing physically, what has improved for you?

I think it’s just part of the whole mentality with our Czech team. All of us have got a new drive and energy and excitement for this team. Buying into the new philosophy and just trusting the process, it really helps you feel more comfortable on the ice. I’ve realized that it’s a game. If you do mistakes, you do mistakes. You’ve just got to do better the next time you’re on the ice. So I think my mental game has also gotten stronger.
With the national team, what’s it like to be around captain Alena Mills on and off the ice?

First of all, she’s a great person. Second of all, she’s a great, great hockey player. I’ve looked up to her ever since I started playing for Team Czech, even as a younger player. And I’ve actually had the chance to practice with her a lot since the end of qualifications up until now. It’s been amazing. She’s funny and she’s very skilled.

On the ice, I’ve just been trying to catch on to little things she’s doing, so I can improve my shot and stuff like that. We’ve communicated a lot about little things. She would correct me, saying: “Try this, it works a little better than that.” That was great. I think we became a lot closer to another by practicing together for so long.

You started the Women’s Worlds playing with Denisa Krizova and Tereza Vanisova, but then switched to a line with Natalie Mlynkova and Katerina Mrazova. Who do you especially enjoy playing with?

Everyone! I can’t say there has been a time when I didn’t enjoy playing with somebody. Because it’s always different with somebody else. Everyone has a unique piece to them that makes it interesting and fun to play with them.

For instance, Tereza Vanisova is very fast. Sometimes it’s hard to read her because she’s so fast! So you’ve got to think faster. I found that was exciting. And Katerina Mrazova is very, very smart. Again, you’ve got to adapt to that. When you’re playing with a really smart player, you need to know how to position yourself a little better. But players like that just make your game so much easier. Natalie Mlynkova is also a great player. I think we have great chemistry on the ice. We can find each other really well. 

Who’s your funniest teammate?

For this, I have to go with Dominika Laskova. She will just crack jokes and make you laugh. She makes everyone laugh! You’re never bored when you’re around her.
On a more serious note, what made you decide to pursue your NCAA hockey career and education at Colgate?

I really enjoyed the communication I had with the coaches and with the players I went to visit. Colgate was one of the first schools that I talked to, and I actually committed very early to them. The reason for that seriously was communication. I just enjoyed it. I had good vibes, good energy when I visited. The coaches seemed interested in me a lot. I like that they’re caring about you as a person as well as a hockey player, and they’re looking for you to grow.

How did you end up majoring in psychology and brain science with a minor in writing and rhetoric?

Great question! I came to Colgate being undecided. I had no idea what I wanted to try. Actually for a while, I thought I’d try being pre-med. So I took Chemistry 101. That did not go great, to be honest! [laughs]

I talked to one of my friends from the team that was in the same grade as me about psychology. We were like, “It seems kind of interesting. We’ll give it a shot.” So it started with Intro to Psych, and I fell in love with it. Every psych course since then was just super-unique and interesting. So I continued it and I declared it!

Writing started actually kind of randomly. I was recommended to be placed in one of the writing classes. I enjoyed that and took more and more. Then I realized I had enough to declare it as a minor. So I just decided to go for it. And I enjoy all my classes! I can’t complain about my minor or major.

Can you see yourself working as a psychologist down the road?

I feel like psychology is something you can use in any field, pretty much. It doesn’t have to be only, say, counselling or human resources. But in psychology, you’re working with people and I actually really, really enjoy that. So I definitely see myself doing something psychology-related, maybe counselling, in the future. But we’ll see. I can’t plan that far ahead!

What do you like about the lifestyle at Colgate and in the city of Hamilton, New York?

It’s very different from where I’m from, because Prague is a pretty big city. So it was a nice change going to Colgate. It’s a smaller school, so you get to know pretty much everyone. I walk from one class to another, and I just recognize so many people from different sports, even outside sports. I also enjoy the nature. Sometimes you just need to breathe in the fresh air, and Colgate definitely gives you that.

You’re playing at Colgate with another Czech forward, Kristyna Kaltounkova. As a 19-year-old sophomore, she’s currently second in Colgate scoring with 33 points in 22 games. What kind of future do you foresee for her?

I think she’s an absolutely great player! She has so much potential, and I bet she’s going to improve even more. I’m really excited for her. We’re actually pretty close. She’s doing so great at Colgate right now. And I’m rooting for her so much. She definitely started off at Colgate much better than I started off my freshman year. I respect that.
Growing up, who were your favourite hockey players?

When I was younger, I loved Sidney Crosby. But also, I’ve actually always looked up to Katarina Mrazova, my teammate! We’re from the same hometown, where I was born. She’s one of the reasons why I started playing hockey and continued. She’s a few years older than me, and I would see her playing with the boys. I was so excited for her because she was, like, the best one on the team. I thought, “Ah, I want to be just like her!” She’s definitely my inspiration.

The NHL 22 video game by EA Sports is including women’s hockey players for the first time. What do you think about that?

It’s amazing. I personally am not a big gamer. But when this information came out, I was so excited. I feel like we’re finally being recognized for working so hard – all of the female players – and it just feels really good. There are some girls that are younger and are gamers, unlike me, and now they can go on NHL and play with our women’s national teams. I think it’s great and a big sign of growth for women’s hockey. Definitely!

Are you into music?

I love music. I listen to music when I do literally everything, even school and reading. All kinds: country, rap, pop, anything. One of my favorite artists is [Detroit singer-songwriter] Quinn XCII, who is starting to get more famous now.

Do you have a favourite type of food?

Yes! Oh my God, I love Czech food. Now, this is not definitely not a pre-game meal, but one great Czech dish is called Svickova. It’s amazing. A lot of sauce, beef, and dumplings. So not very good for you, especially when you’re doing sports! After the Olympics, maybe. I eat pretty much anything, any kind of meat. I’m not too picky.

Clearly your main focus right now is the Olympics. After the two exhibition games Czechia played against Finland in December, losing 4-3 and then 1-0 in a shootout, do you have a little more confidence that your team can challenge for an Olympic medal?

It does give us confidence for sure. Still, we don’t want to be satisfied with just being close. We’ve worked really hard and and we know we can definitely do more than lose by one goal or in a shootout. But we know that we can go to the tournament and play against anyone. We can compete against anyone. It feels good!