A tournament of firsts
by Liz Montroy|22 MAR 2022
Players from Bosnia & Herzegovina (yellow) and Serbia (red) played together with Croatian players (white) during the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend last autumn.
The 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division III Group B is set to be a tournament of firsts, as three countries will make their Women’s World Championship debut, with the fourth team returning to the international stage for the first time in 14 years.

Serbia hosts at debut

Women’s hockey started to develop in Serbia in the early 2000s, with there being a surge in interest and resources dedicated towards female players in more recent years, leading the Serbian Ice Hockey Association to launch a project to organize girls-only hockey camps and tournament teams. Now the country is set to make their Women’s World Championship debut, and will be hosting the tournament in Belgrade.

“Our team is very young,” said head coach Uros Brestovac. “With that our advantage at this kind of event will be great desire to perform as best as possible on our IIHF debut, and our discipline in game with 100% effort every second on the ice.”

Players to watch for include three with DEBL experience in Austria – Anastasija Bencic, Elena Sekulic and Ivett Vastag – and Serbian-Hungarian sisters Hanna and Lila Rac Sabo. Part of their preparation for the tournament included playing games against Olimpija Ljubljana, an EWHL team from Slovenia, in January.

“We had several regional tournaments and games during the season and the World Championships will be the ‘cherry on top of the cake’ for us,” said Brestovac. “We want to play our best hockey in Belgrade in front of a home crowd and to show to everybody that there is a future for girls’ and women’s hockey in Serbia.”

Bosnia and Herzegovina travels east

Sarajevo’s World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend event in 2021 served as a great preparation event for Bosnia and Herzegovina’s first Women’s World Championship appearance, as it included a tournament with women’s teams from Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia. This tournament was part of a new agreement between the three countries, as well as Bulgaria, in which each year, each country will host a round robin competition for their women’s national teams, providing the nations with valuable competition experience.

In addition, the first ever cross-border games between women’s club teams in Bosnia and Serbia took place in March of 2021, another important step forward for both countries.

Bosnia and Herzegovina first started to garner significant interest in building up a women’s program in 2015. While many of the players currently in the program started playing hockey in their early teenage years, as the program has grown, more and more girls have taken up the sport at a younger age. Their World Championship roster has a wide range of ages, with players as young as 14 and as old as 48.

Bosnian-Canadian Anthony London coaches the national team, in addition to coaching Sarajevo’s local women’s club team (Lavice, or Lionesses), which most of the national team players also compete on. London, who grew up in Canada, has been instrumental in building the country’s women’s program.

First international women’s hockey games for Israel 

The final team making their first international appearance, Israel’s women’s program was spearheaded by Esther Silver, who had years of experience playing hockey in Canada prior to building out a program in Israel 15 years ago. Silver started with collecting and donating equipment and developed a hockey camp to which she invited Canadian and American coaches. She then helped form a women’s team which now plays against men’s club teams in Israel. 

Keep an eye out for goaltenders Yael Fatiev and Shelley Silkha, who Silver has previously referred to as being the “backbone” of the team, and defender Nofar Dar and forward Lior Leshem, who have both shown their ability to score in Israel’s men’s league. Dual Canadian-Israeli citizen Tali Orgil is also on the roster, and has experience playing with the Hockey Training Academy (HTI) Stars in Ontario.

Estonia makes women’s hockey comeback

Estonia last played in the World Championships in 2008, closing out the tournament with a 3-0 loss to Iceland and finishing just one point shy of the podium. The 2008 global economic crisis led to women’s hockey fading away from Estonia’s sports scene, and it wasn’t until 2015 that it made its comeback as part of several IIHF women’s hockey initiatives.

In 2016, several Estonians joined the educational program at a IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp in Finland and helped organize the country’s first World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend event. The Estonian Women’s Hockey League (Eesti Naiste Hokiliiga), which existed in the early 2000s, was relaunched in 2017/18.

The national team has most recently been the subject of a documentary called “On Silver Heels”, which follows the team and its players on their journey to return to the World Championships. A large crowdfunding campaign was conducted to raise funds for both the documentary and the team, successfully collecting over €10,000.  

“I definitely want to emphasize the cohesiveness and fighting spirit of the team,” said Inguna Lukasevica, the team’s Latvian head coach. “If this team is able to show its best performance, then we will be able to compile a good competition in this championship.”

Ones to watch include the goaltending duo of Delen Schule and Triinu Tuvike, as well as defenders Aleksandra-Olga Seppar and Christin Lauk, who are strong both offensively and defensively. Kirke Kulla will lead the team as captain, while Margate Neering has made the roster as the team’s youngest player at age 19.

“Our main task is to stay in the group and return to the international hockey arena after a long break, to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our team to see where more needs to be done to create a program for the further development of Estonian women’s hockey.”

All games streamed live

The four nations will play a round robin event with six games in the Serbian capital. All games are streamed live. The stream will be available on IIHF.com during game time on the tournament page or in the game centre.