“So far the future looks bright. We have five different women´s teams in Estonia, an Estonian women’s championship and lots of younger girls wanting to try hockey,” said Veronika Tiganik, co-founder and player of Tallinn-based women´s team HC Grizzlyz.
The Estonian Ice Hockey Association had 91 female players registered on their books last season. With the launch of a female national team in the pipeline, capturing the minds of a new generation will be key as the women´s game targets growth in the northernmost of the Baltic States.
The World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend saw three separate events take place across Estonia. Tallinn in the north was joined by the eastern university town Tartu, Kohtla-Jarve in the northeast and Viljandi in the southern part of the country.
In Estonia’s capital Tallinn, hosts HC Grizzlyz welcomed 30 participants between the age of 4-12 out on the ice. Working as the event manager in Tallinn´s Tondiraba Ice Hall, 25-year-old Tiganik recalled the curious circumstances that got her hooked on hockey.
“My hockey interest started after attending my father’s games. As a figure skater, I commented that his team was skating way too slow. He said: ‘Okay, I bet you won’t be skating much faster than we do once you put all this gear on.’ I said that the bet was on, so he found a girls’ team for me and I went to my first practice. I fell in love with hockey straight away and since that day I have been involved in the hockey world,” she said.
Now five years since being caught by the hockey bug, Tiganik hopes many of the participants at the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend would like to follow in her footsteps.
“The kids were very happy to try ice hockey, play a few games and socialize. We now hope that this event can help girls and of course also their parents to see that hockey is a great sport. It helps you stay fit, gives you lots of happiness, strength and of course friends for life. We hope they see that this is not a dangerous sport and that it is for everyone, not only for the boys. As a team, we hope that we get more girls to join us,” she said.
In the summer of 2018, Tiganik was one of the co-founders of HC Grizzlys. Overnight the number of women’s teams in the Estonian capital had doubled. Now HC Grizzlys together with its rivals Pink Panthers have a job on their hands in order to promote themselves of their existence.
“I think one of the most important things that should be improved is publicity. Unfortunately, women’s ice hockey is not very widely publicized in Estonia. Another important point is the lack of ice rinks in Estonia as we have lots of teams who would like to have ice time. Also, we have lots of figure skaters who also want their ice time. So additional ice rinks would help hockey to grow further in Estonia,” she added.
Surrounded by nations further ahead in the development of the women´s game, Estonia is actively cooperating with their neighbours to speed up its progress.
HC Everest Kohtla-Jarve will start their third season travelling across the border to St. Petersburg competing in Russia while other Estonian teams have participated in Baltic international tournaments.
“We have a close cooperation with our neighbours from Latvia. Some of the Grizzlyz girls have also been to their summer hockey camp. We also have contact with our neighbours from Finland and Russia,” said Tiganik.
When Tartu-born Kristi Shashkina opted to move to Russia it also boosted her prospects as a hockey player. Now 16 years old, she has skated for Russia at the U18 and is one of the rising stars at SKIF Nizhni Novgorod. In an attempt to hold on to each nugget in what is a small playing pool, an Estonian national women’s team is soon expected to be ready to take on the world.
“The whole idea and purpose behind having women playing their league are to put out a national women hockey team which will join the IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship competition from the 2020/2021 season. That is the ultimate plan. Although, as an association we have made it clear to our women’s teams and players that the initiative needs to come from their side. Especially on the organizing side to gather a team that can compete for promotion through the divisions,” said Rainer Komi, General Secretary of the Estonian Ice Hockey Association.