Seeing double
by Henrik Manninen|16 DEC 2022
Fraternal twins Karlo and Matea Marinkovic both represent Croatia internationally.
photo: © Stjepan Cizmadija
From USA’s Lamoureux sisters to the Sedin brothers of Sweden, international hockey has had its fair share of twins skating on the same team. But how many brother-sister twin combos do you know in international ice hockey?

On the Croatian national team program, teenage twins Karlo and Matea Marinkovic went separate ways at the age of 12.

This week, 18-year-old Karlo Marinkovic is one of the key players for newcomers Croatia competing at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group A in Kaunas, Lithuania. Further south in Central Europe, his progress will be closely followed by his biggest supporter and twin, Matea. 

In April and May earlier this year, Christmas arrived early for the Marinkovic family. Within the space of a few weeks, the 18-year-old twin siblings had made their senior debuts at the World Championship level. First up was Karlo who won bronze for Croatia’s men’s national team at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division II Group A. A few weeks later, his sister Matea followed it up by skating at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group B. Their respective debuts got even more special as both tournaments were played on their home ice in Zagreb.

“The whole family cheered us on and it was a big thing because we both played at home. We also scored a similar goal. His goal was against the Netherlands and mine was against Turkey, both cutting inside and taking a shot,” said Matea.

Born in 2004, they started skating at the outdoor rink in Zagreb’s Salata district aged three. They were nine when local favourites Medvescak Zagreb joined the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in 2013.

“When the KHL first started in Zagreb, we used to go to every single game,” recalled Matea. “I have a shirt signed by Tom Zanoski (then a Medvescak and Croatian national team player) and I still sleep in it. We got used to watching a very high level of hockey in Zagreb. It’s a shame it didn’t work out, but it was cool while it lasted,” she said.

The financial meltdown saw Medvescak Zagreb depart from the KHL in 2017. Only a couple of years later the club ceased its operations. The final death knell came in 2020 when an earthquake caused structural damage and closure of their former home rink Dom Sportova.

By then the Marinkovic twins had already gone separate ways in their up-and-coming careers. Having skated together on the same team until the age of 12, Karlo became the first to try his luck abroad. Neighbouring Slovenia became his first port of call before continuing to Sweden last year.

“I didn’t have an easy time in Sweden at the start, so it was really nice to finish last season playing for the Croatian men’s national team, which I didn’t expect,” Karlo said. “I’ve since signed for another season for my Swedish team, Stromsbro, but I would like to try to make it to J20 national (top junior division in Sweden) or maybe get a scholarship for the NCAA. I think my goals might be a little bit high, but it’s better that way.”

Meanwhile, Matea’s path to the national team has had its fair share of bumps along the way. She broke her arm in her early teens and momentarily quit hockey due to a lack of opportunities. Having started with swimming, she soon realized what she was missing and swiftly returned to her first love, ice hockey.

“It’s not very easy to be a women’s hockey player in Croatia. The first problem is that we only have two rinks. There used to be a women’s team in Zagreb, but it doesn’t exist anymore,” she said.

“At the moment there is only one women’s team in Sisak where almost all from the national team are playing. But it’s a bit too far away for me so I hope we can get a team in Zagreb again soon. There are a lot of girls I know in Zagreb wanting to play hockey.”

Lack of opportunities in her home city has seen Matea play her club hockey across the border in Maribor, Slovenia. Altogether three Slovenian clubs and Sisak make up the women’s International Hockey League (IHL). But with league matches few and far between, joint efforts between Croatia and its neighbouring national associations have added another level of competition to the season.

“We also have a kind of smaller league that we play with the national teams against for instance Serbia and Bosnia & Herzegovina. We travel to each place once so that we can play together more with the national team,” she said.

With the Marinkovic twins closely following each other’s progress, they met in September when Karlo won gold at the 2022 IIHF Ice Hockey U20 World Championship Division II Group B in Belgrade, Serbia. With Matea then cheering on from the stands, did she spot many similarities in her brother’s game compared to her own?

“I don’t think we are too similar as players,” said Matea. “He plays centre and shoots left. I play left wing and shoot right. His overview of the game is also very different to mine, so I watch his game, how he moves as I can learn a lot from him,” said Matea.

But Karlo tends to disagree: “Our performance out on the ice is similar. You can see it in the way we skate. We are also both a bit smaller in size, but our motivation and energy levels are really high,” he said.

The U20 World Championship Division II Group A finishes with games today and tomorrow. Great Britain, Spain and Croatia were tied with six points from three games on the top of the standings.