Slovakia steps up
by Martin Merk|18 OCT 2021
Girls learn to skate at the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend event in Michalovce, Slovakia.
Slovakia wants to improve in women’s hockey both in terms of participation and the level of play after a short stint at the top level (2010-2012 with the senior team, 2020 with the U18 team).

The World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend has been a helpful tool in recruiting players and first results can now be seen years after the start. For this year the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation stepped up by having the initiative in more cities than ever.

“With Miro Satan as new President and a new CEO we were looking at women’s hockey and that we had too few female players in Slovakia. We took the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend project as a good example globally but also in some countries like in Finland, where they grew numbers from 3,000 to 10,000. We worked on our strategy and how to reach our goals,” Lubomira Kozanova, the federation’s Women’s Program Manager, explained the step up.

Currently Slovakia has 727 registered female players in the country. While that’s more than double the number from 10 years ago, there’s still room for improvement compared to the top women’s hockey nations.

The step up this year means three cities had events on Friday, seven on Saturday and seven on Sunday with hundreds of girls involved in 17 cities.

That also meant more clubs were to be convinced than those who have traditionally taken part.

“We convinced them. We talked with all teams in Slovakia. Some were very happy, some a bit hesitant at first. For us it’s a big win that we have so many clubs and also big clubs like Slovan Bratislava or HC Kosice who haven’t had a women’s team in their structure,” said Kozanova.

“We started with this philosophy 10, 11 years ago with the IIHF when we just had few events mostly with women’s hockey clubs but now we have big, male-dominated clubs who changed their mind. Hockey is not just for boys but also for girls. We’ve broken barriers. And we want to continue to do that every year and if the situation is good maybe even twice a year.”

The invested work did not only work out when it comes to the number of venues. The hockey festival for girls and the nationwide promotion for it brought many players to the event. 104 girls came to the rink in Michalovce, 94 in Trencin and 85 in Spisska Nova Ves.
“This year’s World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend in Slovakia was highly promoted by the Slovak Ice Hockey Federation, which brought large attendances. Hopefully it will bring good results in the number of new players in next years as well as it will bring women’s hockey closer to the general public,” said HC Osy Spisska Nova Ves manager Tomas Cerny about the visible change.

The clubs were helped with former Olympians who played in Vancouver 2010 and visited the various venues and Slovakia’s World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend jerseys were that popular that many girls proudly kept them on for the way home.

Slovakia does have a passion for ice hockey. For the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship it called itself “Hockey Republic”. Now the Slovaks hope to use the enthusiasm to make the sport more popular among women and girls.

“For people in our town hockey is their most favorite sport, they love it for years. Love to cheer, love to play. In this way, we are glad that girls are also interested in ice hockey, which they showed at the event,” said Denisa Hullova of MHK Martin.
The much increased World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend was also a strong signal after the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought hockey in the country – apart from professional leagues – to a halt. It’s the time to regroup in the national competitions and tell the world that Slovak hockey is ready for the next generation of female players to hit the ice and have fun.

For the national teams it will be a comeback season and due to lack of competitions between the countries at their level it’s to be seen how strong the teams will be.

“Corona changed everything with no tournaments. In Slovakia we continued with the women and had a couple of games and have a team in the EWHL. The two years changed a lot. We will see how it will be in the women’s Final Olympic Qualification,” said Kozanova.

The national teams still had some camps. Including the U18 women’s national team that will battle to get back to the top level.

“We were relegated and now we will see how our girls have grown. We worked with them and had a couple of camps but not the World Championship where teams have different emotions. It’s very different, so we will see how it will go,” she said.

Next after three days of fun and recruitment campaigns will be the Olympic Qualification group in Lulea where the Slovaks will play host Sweden, France and Korea from 11 to 14 November, hoping to qualify for the Olympics for the second time after Vancouver 2010.