GRANADA, Spain – She recently celebrated her 19th birthday but had her big present already in April. Expected to be the third goalie on the Austrian national team, Jessica Ekrt got the biggest share of ice time at the 2017 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division I Group A on home ice in Graz.
“To play at the tournament on home ice is still a big surprise for me and gives me goose-bump feelings. It was exciting to play on home ice in front of people you know. We had great team chemistry, everything worked out except that we didn’t reach promotion. But maybe next year,” said Ekrt.
“I didn’t expect to play, I went there with the idea to sit on the tribune. That’s why I was very happy to get the chance to play and help the team win silver. I hope I can confirm this role or get an even bigger role. I know I’m young but young people are the future. It would be a great experience to continue like that.”
Jessica Ekrt is the daughter of Martin Ekrt, a former forward who was born in Czechoslovakia but spent most of his career in Germany before playing in Austria and coaching in Italy.
Jessica was born in Regensburg while her father was playing there. She started hockey when she was 7, moved to Vienna when she was 8. “I started because I’m from a hockey family. My father played hockey and is a coach now and my grandfather is a coach as well. Being in the net has always been a good fit for me. I started and hoped nobody would shoot at me but noticed quickly that it won’t be like that.”
Dominik Hasek was her first idol, which is visible at her helmet. Now Carey Price is her favourite goalie.
Ekrt is one of 40 goaltenders from 16 countries who had the chance to go to the 2017 IIHF Women’s Goaltending Development Camp in Granada and learn from top coaches and mentors.
“The camp will for sure help me in my career. Every goalie here wants to see how they do it in other countries and that will give me a lot of inputs for the new season. It’s my first time at such a camp and I’m really looking forward to be part of it,” she said. The Austrian delegation in the Andalusian city includes three young netminders and a goaltending coach.
“I knew some players from Austria and other countries who play in our league,” she said. The league, that’s the Austrian-based cross-border league EWHL where she plays for the Sabres Vienna.
“We practise one morning and two evenings a week and have two games during the weekend. And we have off-ice training from the national team to do individually. In the EWHL we have good, competitive opponents. Bratislava plays almost with the Slovak national team,” she said about her league.
“Sometimes we have teams from far away who play in our league. The Kazakh team [Aisulu Almaty] is an opponent I really liked to play against. We never went there but they come for like two weeks to play a couple of games and then fly back.”
Her move up this spring came surprising. In February during the Final Olympic Qualification in Japan she was the third netminder. But in April Nicole Arnberger was missing on the roster due to injury. Ekrt got the start in a 6-4 opening win against Norway and split ice time with Theresa Hornich throughout the tournament. Eventually she got a little more time in the net than her more experienced teammate. Her 92.96% save percentage was the highest of all number-one goaltenders and Austria finished in second place – the best placing for the Austrian women’s national team it also reached in 2015. Can Austria make it next year with the top division being extended from eight to ten teams?
“It’s not that easy. All teams are good at the Division I. Everybody has to battle but we have a very good team, we may not fade and need to continue our work. Then we’ll see what comes out. Hopefully a gold medal,” she said.
“It’s my dream to play at the Olympics or in the top division of the Women’s World Championship. And to get a bigger role on the team and that the teammates know they can count on me.”
Ekrt will for now stay in Vienna where she started to study for a teaching degree. “But later it would be interesting to move abroad to get new experiences and grow as a person,” she said.
And what’s her wish in Granada? “I look forward to meeting Florence Schelling because she’s a really good goaltender who has reached a lot. Women’s hockey needs people like her and Zuzana Tomcikova to promote the sport and it’s my dream to be like that too one day.”
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