European women hockey players adapt to new environment

Manuela Habel is dealing with the responsibilities as international student athletes. (Tom Bateman/AQ)

The “fastest game in the world” requires a tight schedule each week: one or two games on the weekend, four times training at the rink, two times exercising in the gym, and papers and assignments somewhere in between. Life of university students enrolled in competitive sports is a challenge.

But a challenge is what Renata Mastnà and Manuela Hebel were looking for.

The two St. Thomas University women’s hockey players came from Europe to play hockey in Canada because they wanted to experience real competition.

“Czech League is just not good enough. There are one or two strong teams that cannot basically be beaten.

“I always wanted to play something better, to improve and to play with the best players in the world,” the 22-year-old said.

Mastnà started skating when she was five years old. By 10, she played her first hockey game with boys, since there was no girls’ teams in her hometown Trebic, Czech Republic.

Mastnà said hockey is a team sport; everyone plays a role. She loves the speed of the game – despite its harshness.

Mastnà has played for the National Czech Republic Team in Division One (also in Division One are Canada and the United States) for times, two times for Olympic qualifications tournaments and one season for the Connecticut Northern Lights.

With a dream to play and study in North America, Mastnà sent many emails to coaches at universities, offering them her skills. This included speaking with STU’s women’s hockey coach Peter Murphy before she arrived in Fredericton in January 2011.

“He was like, ‘Hey, you know, there are some injuries in our team, so our bench is short, so when you want to come for the second semester, you can give it a try.’

“So, I decided to come.”

Mastnà said players have to make quick decisions if they want to play on a team abroad. She said it’s important to listen to the coach and already play for a team. .

Equally important, said Manuela Hebel, is that players must be eager and driven. They have to be flexible, spontaneous and actually want to go overseas.

“It is also good to have a special skill. For example, I’m very fast,” she said.

With a speed-skating mother, the 26-year-old from Freising, Germany, is used to ice. She started skating at the age of three and began to play hockey 11 years later.

After a year in a British Columbian high school, she played in Germany’s Bundesliga, the German Top Division.

“There is a big difference between players in [German] teams. There are one or two good players in a team, [but] they are spread all over Germany,” she said.

Mostly known as a soccer nation, Germany is starting to develop a love for hockey.

“Compared with Canada, Germany is 20 years behind [with its passion for hockey]. Women’s hockey is underestimated; there is a lack of respect,” she said.

“But it is coming. Many people begin to like hockey. It becomes more popular, because hockey is faster and more physical than soccer.”

Before coming to STU, Hebel played in Edmonton in the Western Women’s Hockey League. Although it is unusual, as players in the WWH league tend to be older than those in the Atlantic University Sport’s league, Hebel was asked to play for STU.

In Fredericton, Hebel faced challenges such as finding an apartment and picking courses that matched her needs.

But so far, things have been a little less stressful for Hebel. In Germany, Hebel studies psychology at the University of Mannheim and is working on her master thesis. At STU, Hebel only has three courses, a luxury Mastnà doesn’t get.

“Sometimes, I’m just dead,” said Mastnà, referring to her busy schedule.

“I don’t really have much free time. I’m either at the gym, at the rink or I study. So, I just like to sleep. That’s my favourite,” she laughed.

“Hockey may be hard, you know, like somebody checks, [but] it is the fastest game of the world.”


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