Learning experience for Dutchwomen
by Martin Merk|06 MAY 2022
Bieke van Nes on the ice during the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A in Angers. The tournament in France has been the highest international level she and her teammates have played so far.
photo: Theo Barriller-Krine
The Netherlands left the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A without a win but with plenty of new experiences.

For the Dutch players it was the first time they competed at the second level of international women’s ice hockey. They got promoted two levels within one year by winning the Division IIA in 2018 and the Division IB in 2019. Strict restrictions for indoor sports during the Covid-19 pandemic  put ice hockey to a halt for many players who didn’t go abroad but after a long wait the players were able to make their long-awaited debut at this level.

“I feel like it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The Netherlands are not very big in ice hockey and to come as far a women’s team, I’m very proud of this group,” said Bieke van Nes.

“I feel like we’ve shown that we’re the face of Dutch hockey and I’m proud of everyone. Sometimes it doesn’t go our way but I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished this past week. I hope to push forward like this for the next season as well.”

It was only the second time a Dutch women’s team played among the second-tier countries. The Netherlands did it once before. When they entered the program, they played in the B-Pool in 1999 but lost all five games with a goal record of 11-39 and wouldn’t return until starting in the third tier in 2003 – this time to stay in the program permanently.

23 years after the debut in the second tier it was a new team that played there and for most of the time managed to keep up with the higher-ranked opponents. The team finished with four losses but one point and a 4-17 goal record.

The team started with earning a point in a 2-1 shootout loss to Austria where they managed to keep the score low despite being outshot 48-11. It didn’t work as well in the second game, a 7-1 loss to Norway, but the team managed to reduce the damage in the following games that ended as 4-1 losses to tournament winner France and bronze medallist Slovakia. In both games the Dutch team could hope for another sensation and kept it a one-goal game until late in the second period.

Van Nes came into hockey through her brother Guus, who also represented the Netherlands internationally and spent this season with the Quinnipiac University in the NCAA.

“My little brother had a high energy level so when we were younger my parents tried different sports for him to try to get rid of some energy and when we got to hockey I honestly liked it too and some weeks later also tied up the skaters,” the native of Dordrecht said.

She played her junior hockey with Dordrecht and competed with the Dutch national team in IIHF tournaments and in the Austria-based cross-border league EWHL. With the her hometown team Dordrecht Lions she also played on the men’s senior team that competed in the Eerste Divisie – at that time the second level of men’s senior hockey behind the cross-border BeNeLiga – and was among her team’s best scorers. She then left for three years at the Concordia University in Canada (USports) before returning to Europe for the past year and play women’s hockey in Austria with the Neuberg Highlanders.

“Dutch women’s hockey is definitely on the rise and it needs to rise a little bit further still. A lot of our teammates go abroad to different countries. I went to Canada and Austria but a lot of girls go to Sweden. It’s just because there’s so much to learn there,” van Nes said.

“We have a small pool of players in the Netherlands to play with so it’s nice to broaden the pool and go to different countries and learn from there because there are a lot of different perspectives on hockey that we don’t find in the Netherlands.”

Last year there were 283 female players in the Netherlands – clearly less than the other countries at the tournament ranging from France with 1,542 female players to Austria’s 489.

That also means it’s more of a family affair and van Nes enjoying the annual reunions. Of the 21 players only 10 spent last season in the Netherlands while the rest tried their luck abroad – five in Sweden, five in Austria and one in North America. At Neuberg van Nes played with fellow countrywomen Emily Even and Hilde Huisman.

“It’s definitely one big family. Because it’s so small it makes us a tight-knit group. I feel like I’ve played on this team for the past 13 years now. It sounds old when I say that. I played with 80 per cent of the girls in all those 13 years,” she said.

“It’s really nice to come together even if people play at different teams throughout the season. It’s a really great feeling to come back to the team here and go to camps and the Worlds and be together as a family again.”

The Dutch women’s national team finishes the season in 15th place overall in the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship program – the highest rank ever after 16th (1999, 2013, 2015). The last time a team from the country was ranked that high in the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship porgram was during the better days of the men’s national team that was 15th in 1993 and went as high as 7th in 1953.

In the Division IA the Dutch will be replaced by China, which converted its Olympic ambitions also to success in the Women’s Worlds system by winning the Division IB in Poland. The Netherlands are scheduled to regroup in Division IB and battle for promotion with the likes of Poland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Korea and Great Britain. They will do so with new learning experience in Angers and knowledge of what it takes to become better.

“We need to be faster in everything – handling, speed, everything. Even playing against all these players is such an honour because it makes us better as a team as well,” van Nes said about last week’s tournament in France.

“Even in a game we lose we learn so much. Even the little details. We have a staff right now that’s also very focused on the details. It’s cool to be part of this experience and learn so many little things.”