Slovakian Olympians honed their skills in Saskatchewan

Posted: March 23, 2010

By Amy Robertson

Front banner (left to right): Iveta Karafiatova, Zuzana Tomcikova, and Martina Velickova in Caronport (2005). Photo by Shawna Johnson.

Left to right: Martina Velickova, Zuzana Tomcikova, and Iveta Karafiatova at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Photo submitted by Ruth Koop.
When we say the Cougars are top competitors, we’re not kidding. Three names on Slovakia’s Olympic women’s hockey team roster looked awfully familiar in February—because Iveta Karafiatova, Slovakia's team captain, Zuzana Tomcikova, the goalie, and Martina Velickova, a forward, played hockey for Caronport High School just four years ago.

Karafiatova, Tomcikova, and Velickova, who have been playing hockey since they were young children, played on boys’ teams until Slovakian league rules said they couldn’t anymore—when they turned 16.

At that point, they had a choice to make if they wanted to move forward as hockey players. Hockey may be a national pastime in Canada, but in Slovakia, fewer than 300 women are registered in the sport. There was little hope for real growth on the under-funded Slovakian women’ teams, so in 2004, their national team coach made some contacts.

Barrett Kropf, a hockey coach at Caronport High School—nearly 8,000 km away— was interested.

All three girls, who were best friends and teammates, transferred to Caronport High School that fall.

Karafiatova, Tomcikova, and Velickova played for the Lady Cougars during their time here. Karafiatova and Tomcikova, who graduated from CHS in 2006 (Velickova stayed just a year, leaving in 2005), also played for the Cougars (the boys’ team).

“It was an amazing experience,” Karafiatova said about her time in Caronport.

Velickova, who is currently playing hockey in Germany, echoes that. “[My] time in Caronport was one of my best times in my life so far.”

Left to right: Iveta Karafiatova and Zuzana Tomcikova with Ed Koop, a member of the host family Karafiatova stayed with in Caronport. Koop, who came to the Vancouver Olympics in February to watch the three girls play, brought letters from their former classmates at CHS and a Cougars jersey.
Photo submitted by Ruth Koop.
She loved playing for the Cougars for a number of reasons: One, the team won—a lot. Two, she was able to play with her two best friends. Three, she saw more action on the stronger, faster boys’ team, which she loved. Fourth, and perhaps best of all, on Canadian soil, home of hockey’s greatest legends, she was an equal.

Just last month, all three girls saw an incredible dream come true when they played hockey for Team Slovakia at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Tomcikova, the goalie, knew the Slovakian team was “the underdog” and wouldn’t medal—but she loved every minute of Olympic play in spite of the hammering her team took from far stronger teams like Canada and the U.S. For her, it was about the Olympic experience, getting better, and showing her home country that women can, in fact, play hockey—good hockey.

"I really hope this helps us, because I don't think there was a lot of women's hockey games on television until now," Tomcikova told the Globe and Mail in February 2010 after an Olympic practice.

"I hope a lot of people at home see that. I hope they see that women's hockey is a good sport. I hope they like it, and that they let their daughters or their sisters or whoever they have at home play it. And it's going to become more popular, and it's going to get started."

Velickova’s other dream was to win one game in Vancouver, which didn’t happen, but she’s not discouraged. “Now we have to make a way to Schocci [Russia] to win a game,” she said.

Karafiatova, Tomcikova, and Velickova huddle with their team before a game at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Photo submitted by Ruth Koop.
Tomcikova is studying mass media at Bemidji State University in Minnesota, where she is the goaltender for the women’s varsity team. As of January 2010, she had posted six shutout periods and made 633 saves on 673 shots on goal, placing her fifth in the country for saves percentage (0.941) and third in the U.S.A. for saves.

Velickova is studying international relations at university in Prague. She is a forward on Berlin’s women’s hockey team, which is gearing up for the European championships.

Karafiatova is attending university in Linkopings, Sweden, where she plays defense on the varsity hockey team. This year, her third on the team, she is the assistant captain.