The Flying Chicks don’t only have a flying chick in their logo, they also took off on the ice of Ice n Skate, one of two rinks in Athens and the entire country, two days before the nearby Olympic flame lightning ceremony for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
12 existing players from the club welcomed 15 newcomers. On the ice were female players from the age of 12 to 50 and coach Spyros Ploutsis prepared simple exercises for the first-timers.
“Unfortunately the conditions for hockey in Greece are very difficult. For this reason, we are happy for every opportunity to promote the ice hockey,” said the coach and former national team goalie Ploutsis. “We are glad that already in the next training of our team we will welcome new girls who have shown interest in ice hockey.”
Dramas were invented in ancient Greece and the country’s ice hockey history follows the pattern with ups and downs. Local enthusiasts and the Greek diaspora in hockey countries tried to grow the sport since the ‘80s whenever the facilities allowed it. But too often rinks shut down and progress alternated with setbacks.
The most promising project was putting a full-size ice sheet at a disused wrestling arena of the 2004 Summer Olympics in the Athens suburb of Ano Liosia. For the first time in a while the 2008/2009 Greek ice hockey championship was played 5-on-5 on a full-size ice rink and the first women’s championship was played. The country even gained the right to host the 2010 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship Division III. But then the financial crisis hit the country and the arena in Ano Liosia has never seen ice again. Instead it got a new life as home of the AEK Athens basketball team recently.
Ice hockey continued at small rinks of 1,000 and 800 square metres in Athens that are open for most of the year with additional, occasional temporary ice rinks in wintertime. Another small ice rink in the second-largest city of Thessaloniki closed its doors this year.
While the Sisyphean struggle for the return of a full-size ice rink continues, the players have to be masters of improvisation. Primarily thought for public skating, the hockey family often has to live with morning or late-night ice sessions.
At Ice n Skate in the suburb of Aigaleo, the newcomers worked on their skating, tried to shoot pucks, passing and stickhandling during their Saturday morning session and in the end played a game together with the players from the club.
The parents were happy about the opportunity and random visitors were surprised to see women playing ice hockey.
“I really enjoyed skating with the new girls and it is good to see that our team is getting bigger and bigger,” said team captain Alexandra Kovats.
The Flying Chicks are the only women’s hockey team remaining from the more promising era before the financial crisis hit the country.
“We have been trying to keep women’s hockey alive for years, but it is very difficult,” said Ploutsis mentioning the lack of government support. The biggest issue apart from the ice is that there are no female opponents in Greece.
“The Flying Chicks are the one and only women’s hockey team, which means we can’t play with other female hockey players. All these years, we’re just playing with men’s senior & junior teams,” said forward Nefeli Sarri.
“The levels of each team are very different but at the same time it’s quite challenging. We learn to face every type of player and learn some things through this. Sometimes we split our team into two teams and we play that way. Unfortunately that’s the only way to play with women if there’s no other team.”
By taking part in the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend with events in over 30 countries, the Flying Chicks hope to help promote the game in Greece not only for them but in general.
“We would love to see new girls getting involved and falling in love with this sport here in Greece. Hopefully in the future we will see other women’s ice hockey teams so we can play all together and learn from each other, organize camps, take part in real championships and celebrate the beauty of hockey,” Sarri said.
“But I think we’ve got a long way to get there.”