VIERUMAKI – The 2016 IIHF Women’s High-Performance Camp has kicked off on Saturday evening with some of the top U18 players from countries with the potential of making the Olympics that includes additional development programs open to all countries.
In total 260 people – including 123 players – from 33 countries will participate in the programs during the upcoming days.
Most participants will be working with the teams where players from the top women’s hockey countries are mixed into different teams that will stick together during the week of action to practise, play, do testing, learn on and off the ice, and develop friendship across the borders.
These potential future world-class players will be educated in skills, training, nutrition, anti-doping and other information, knowledge and abilities needed to compete as top-level athletes and share it at home with their colleagues.
IIHF Council member and chairwoman of the IIHF Women’s Committee, Zsuzsanna Kolbenheyer, opened the camp on Saturday evening after the participant’s arrival in Vierumaki, Finland.
“It’s a really great place to be and I hope you’ll really enjoy being here. Take the best out of it,” Kolbenheyer addressed the players and thanked the staff and mentors “who came here during summer to teach the young players and participants of other programs”.
She was followed by Camp Director Aku Nieminen, who talked about the goal of developing high-performance U18 athletes from the Olympic-potential countries here in Vierumaki on the ice, off the ice and in the classrooms.
Beside the player development program, the Women’s High-Performance Camp also includes programs for coaches, goalie coaches, video coaches, team managers, equipment managers, strength and conditioning coaches and athletic trainers who will take part in the program, practices and games.
Three development programs are run parallel on and off the ice at the Sport Institute of Finland in Vierumaki with participants from a wide range of top and developing hockey countries with the Long-Term Development Planning Program, the Yearly Training Plan Program with projects potentially eligible for IIHF subsidies as well as the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend / Learn to Play program.
At the opening session the players were told what will expect them on the first day: a couple of fitness tests, skills practice for goalies, defencemen and forwards, and classroom sessions on anti-doping and nutrition before the programs on the ice in the mixed teams fully run as of Monday.
Long-time Canadian national team coach and assistant chairwoman of the camp Melody Davidson introduced the athlete ambassadors who will join the team and had them talk on the podium to the players.
Emma Terho from Finland talked about playing in many countries – beside Finland in the United States, Russia and Austria. “There are a lot of opportunities ahead of you if you want,” she said about the prospects of playing top-level women’s hockey and also how down she was when she was cut from the team before her second Women’s World Championship participation and how it made her work even harder. Like many of these players she mentioned the years of playing NCAA college hockey as a great time and opportunity for female hockey players.
Molly Engstrom from the United States recommended the players here: “Give it everything you got. Try the best you can be and set an example.”
Former Team Canada player Gina Kingsbury, who as a skills instructor will also be there for the coaches, underlined the importance of coming here having a plan. “Sponge it up at all the sessions and seminars to the full advantage,” she said.
These current or retired world-class players talked about highlights but also about challenges to overcome.
Jenny Potter, the most experienced player of the group who retired some years ago, for instance only started to play hockey when she was 14. Yes, 14. Before that she had focused on American football where she also played with boys. “I had challenges [as a late starter] but these brought me to that level,” said the American, who four years later played at the first Olympic women’s ice hockey tournament in Nagano 1998.
Or did you know how much coincidence was involved in Slovak goalie Zuzana Tomcikova’s career start?
“My older brother played and I asked my father whether I can play too,” Tomcikova remembered. Luckily he didn’t say straight away it was a sport for boys like others would have done at that time in Slovakia. “He said: ‘Go to the coach and ask him whether you can play. If he says yes, you can play.’,” she said.
Luckily the coach said yes and Tomcikova became one of just two girls in the program during most of her junior career. “I learned that it’s important to ask questions,” she said about the lesson of approaching the boys’ team coach as a little girl.
Swiss women’s national team goalie and Sochi 2014 MVP Florence Schelling recommended the players to work hard in practices since talent alone is just not enough to become a top player.
“I was rather lazy in practice and more of a game goalie,” she said of her past and changing that was something important she learned early in her career. Instead of taking it easy when conceding a goal in practice like in the past, it annoys her nowadays. “If you’re not ambitious in practice you don’t develop,” she said.
It’s good lessons for the young players, coaches and administrators during the week-long programs in Vierumaki since there will be plenty to learn on and off the ice as these players are getting ready for their senior career.
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