Iran’s women’s national team made an impressive international debut earlier this year, thanks in part to players like Asal Heydari, who continues to pave the way for the sport in her country. The seasoned inline hockey star transitioned to ice hockey in 2020, and has since made a name for herself internationally, helping Iran to a silver medal at the 2023 IIHF Women’s Asia and Oceania Championship and recently making history as the first woman from Iran to sign with a team abroad.
“Each trip that I had with [Iran’s national ice hockey team] was one of the most beautiful times of my life,” Heydari said of her experience over the past three years. "I don’t think anything will ever come into my life that will give me such a feeling.”
Heydari’s hockey story starts in 2001, when she first started playing inline hockey. One of three people in her family of six to play the sport, she quickly excelled in it, and was regularly acknowledged as a top player in national competitions.
However, a move to Sweden in 2006 with her family led to a hiatus from the sport for several years. “I felt out of place and lost,” said Heydari. "And most importantly, I lost hockey, which I was very attached to.”
While visiting friends in Iran several years later, a former teammate of Heydari's invited her to play a few games, which helped lead to Heydari making the decision to return to Iran and to inline hockey.
“I felt nostalgic and sad that I was no longer part of it. My friend saw that I was unhappy and invited me to play for her team for the three weeks that I was there,” said Heydari. “I accepted happily and scored a goal in the first match. It was the best feeling in the world to relive those beautiful days and to see that I was still a good scorer.”
Selection for Iran’s national team for the 2016 FIRS Inline Hockey World Championships in Italy were taking place at this time as well, and Heydari made the squad.
“I cried with joy. On the other hand, I didn’t know what to do with my life abroad. I was stuck in a dilemma, but I decided to choose whatever made me happy and gave me a good feeling. That was playing hockey in Iran.”
The Inline Hockey World Championships were a highlight for Heydari, who scored her first ever international goal against Latvia, further confirming for herself that she was making the right choice. “This goal had a different feeling for me than all the goals that I scored in Iran.”
Heydari was also invited to Iran’s national team camp for the 2016 Asian Roller Skating Championship - Inline Hockey International Cup in China, where they won bronze. Returning to Iran to continue playing, Heydari was a consistent and productive scorer. In 2019, she scored a league record-setting 52 goals and was selected as the best player.
The opening of the country’s first ice rink in Iran Mall in 2020 led to many of Iran’s inline hockey players turning to ice hockey, including Heydari, who cites the opportunities and possibilities to compete at a high level internationally as a key reason for her decision to make the switch. She spent two seasons, 2021-22 and 2022-23, with Farmanieh HC of Iran’s women’s league.
At the 2023 IIHF Women’s Asia and Oceania Championship, the first ever IIHF tournament for Iran’s women’s team, Heydari was a key offensive contributor, scoring 12 goals and 2 assists through 6 games, including one goal in Iran’s 3-0 semi-final win over Singapore that sent them to the final.
Following the tournament, she felt ready for a new experience and returned to Sweden, this time with the plan of finding a team to play for. While shopping for gear she struck up a conversation with the woman helping her try on skates, who suggested that she contact Hammarby IF, a team in Sweden’s Division 1 league.
“I emailed the coach that night,” said Heydari. “The day of the meeting came and I showed them all my videos and resume, and then they set a date for me to take the test. I thought it would be over with one test, but it was repeated several times until I finally managed to join them. What a brilliant opportunity.”
“Asal has from day one impressed us with her compete level, willingness to get better and her ability to score goals,” said Jan Wiklund, coach of the Hammarby Women’s Senior Team. “We’re excited to have her on our team.”
Heydari played her first game with Hammarby on October 8, and will be back in action with Iran’s national team from November 6 to 12 in the IIHF Women’s Development Cup in Poland, along with Colombia, Argentina and Ireland.