“It’s pretty unusual,” Turkish defender Sena Yavuz admitted. “The hockey season is (usually) over. But this is right after the senior Women’s World Championship, so we have some momentum. There hasn’t been a big gap.”
Yavuz, 17, is one of five Turkish players who competed for the senior women’s national team in the Women’s World Championship Division II Group B in Zagreb, Croatia last month. After losing their opener 7-0 to Australia, the Turkish women won two of their last three games – including a narrow 3-2 loss to eventual gold-medallist Iceland – to finish third.
“In Croatia, our women’s national team got its first medal,” said Yavuz. “It was bronze, but that was a historic moment for Turkish women’s ice hockey and being part of it was very important.”
Yavuz’s first international experience came as a 15-year-old at the 2020 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s Worlds Division II Group B in Mexico City. Last October, she made her senior women’s national team debut in the second round of Olympic Qualification in Bytom, Poland, where the Turks lost three straight games against the higher-seeded opposition from the Netherlands, Poland and Mexico, but the players never lost their spirit and took it as a learning experience. From upstairs, they could be heard singing in their dressing room between periods.
“In the Olympic Qualification, we played against very strong teams. We lost by so many goals, but we learned that a team has to be united as one regardless of the score,” said Yavuz. “Then in Croatia (at the Women’s Worlds), I knew some of the players there from the under-18s so I knew a little bit about what kind of game they played, and I tried my best to share that with my teammates.”
“Being team captain is a big responsibility, and the fact that it’s the national team makes it more precious and important,” she said. “You have to set an example as a human being, you have to share your experiences from previous tournaments and championships with your teammates.”
But she doesn’t have to lead alone. Other players on the Turkish U18 team that have played for the senior women’s national team include goalkeeper Azra Sert, defender Safiye Cagdas and forwards Irmak Gerez, Elif Nur Kaya and Sidra Ozer.
“Of the teams here, we have one of the highest number of players who have played on the senior team as well, so we have lots of experience from the Olympic Qualification and the World Championship,” said Yavuz. “As young players on the senior women’s national team, we’ve had lots of ice time.”
The Turks are idle on the opening day of the tournament, and will watch Great Britain versus Mexico with interest. They then play Mexico on Tuesday night and GB on Wednesday.
“Because of the pandemic, we haven’t had much of a chance to see the other U18 teams,” said Yavuz. About her team’s Group A opponents, she said: “Both teams are good but Great Britain is one of the strongest teams in the tournament, one of the favourites to win it. We beat Mexico two years ago at the U18s twice but we don’t know how they’re playing right now – we haven’t seen them. Our first objective is to do our best in our first two games and hopefully win.”
In addition to senior-level experience, another thing in the team’s favour is playing at home, which Yavuz and her teammates are looking forward to.
“Hosting this tournament at home is really meaningful for us,” she said.
It’s a sport Yavuz originally didn’t know much about when she was spotted inline skating by a hockey coach when she was a child.
“The coach told my parents that he thought I could play ice hockey,” Yavuz recalled. “So I tried it and I was hooked. I’ve been playing hockey ever since.”
She also watches as much hockey as she can online, whether it’s men’s or women’s, professional or amateur. Last week, she stayed up late watching the top group of the U18 Women’s Worlds in Madison and Middleton, USA.
“I want to continue playing hockey as long as I can,” said Yavuz. “Of course, right now, the level of Turkish hockey isn’t so high, but I always want to represent the national team. If possible, I would like to go to foreign countries to improve my game because it’s my favourite thing to do in life.”
Note: The 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division II in Istanbul starts today. All games from the tournament can be watched live on IIHF.com on the tournament page.