How a small club wants to put women’s ice hockey on the map in the Netherlands

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  • Jonah Ter Fair

    NOS Sport Editor

  • Jonah Ter Fair

    NOS Sport Editor

When Den Bosch Red Eagles ice hockey player Zoe Barbier (27) sees the puck roll into the corner, she looks behind her first. If a male opponent appears, twice as heavy as she is, she will not bend into a corner. Beware of the physical examination.

“My teammates get angry, yelling ‘Why don’t you go over there?!'” “. But they don’t understand: I’m a woman, I don’t want to lie in wrinkles.

Barbier plays as one of the few women in the Premier League. It only includes men’s teams. Taller and heavier men, and men allowed to “body check” from the under-15 teams who are allowed to crash hard with boarding. Which is forbidden to women, because its dangers are greater than necessary.

Five concussions already

If men are beaten, or a bruise follows, or they may break something. But Barbier, a woman, suffered five severe concussions between the ages of 17 and 25. From the latter she had to rehabilitate for seven months in a private rehabilitation center at the KNVB in Zeist. “Women are smaller, so you get all the body scans on your head.”

Cooper Photography

Arming Zoe Barbier in front of a body check in the Red Devils

So it’s good if you play ice hockey among men as a woman. But in the Netherlands it could not be otherwise. Sports are dominated by men at all levels. There are some recreational women’s teams, but not in every club. If you have talent as a girl, you should play ice hockey in the boys’ team.

Players say you learn a lot there, and become “stronger physically and mentally.” But it also costs energy. “You have to command respect, because they presume that you are not good as a girl.” The only option? Prove yourself as strong and as fast as possible one of the men Barbier says. This means: hard work, a good pass so they can score. “

“I didn’t want anything else but to play with the boys,” says Brett Wortel, 25, who, like Barbier, plays for TeamNL. “That’s why I became so good. They protected me and saw me as a kind of sister.”

Bra changing tactics

Barbier also shares that experience. But it can also go the other way. Carrot knows stories of girls who were bullied by boys who didn’t want to play with the girls. Or girls who were seen as difficult, for example because of changing clothes.

Some clubs do not have a separate women’s changing room, so you have to change the referee’s booth. Or change with the boys, which I did as a teenager, but then I had to come up with tactics for wearing a sports bra, Barbier says.

  • Amsterdam Tigers

    Amsterdam Tiger U15 (with three girls)
  • Victor de Vries

    Amsterdam Tiger women’s team photos season “22 /” 23

“Girls have to do much more for this sport than boys. They are hitting a wall of inequality. We also want to make it a women’s world.” Jenny Jesens, general manager of the U-18 Girls, who will play their first World Cup match in Dumfries, England, speaks this weekend.

Former player Goessens has been practicing women’s ice hockey in the Netherlands with her mother since 2010. Sometimes up to 40 hours a week – voluntarily. For example, she pushed until the go-ahead for the U-18 women’s selection team in 2017. A team that won gold six months later at the World Cup in Mexico.

“We had an exceptionally good class back then,” she says, laughing.

The medal has yielded new additions: “Five years ago we had 54 girls to choose from for the U-18 national team, and in 2022 there will be 120.” This is still insignificant, especially when you consider that in 1981 the first women’s ice hockey team was founded in Limburg. But it’s a start.

Ellie van der Lee

Under-18 player Danek Koji, when she was 9 and now in America (16)

Goessens wants to introduce as many girls and women as possible to this sport.

Ice hockey is considered the sport that requires the most skills after boxing, such as strength, speed, agility, and hand-eye coordination. Football is in tenth place. In countries like America, Canada and Sweden, ice hockey is one of the most popular sports and there is a professional women’s league.

Unfortunately, the pool of players is weak in the Netherlands. There are no top-level professional women’s teams.

So some are forced to play in the men’s premier league with all the risks associated with that. Half of TeamNL’s team plays for a club abroad. “Girls are traveling abroad at an increasingly younger age,” says Goossens.

20,000 euros per year

Danique Koghee (16), who will play U18 in Dumfries next weekend, left for America last year playing five matches (!).

“Becoming a professional ice hockey star is Danek’s big dream,” says her mother, Elle van der Legg. “We pay her about €20,000 a year, excluding expenses, to allow her to live and play in America.”

There are still about five Dutch girls now playing for foreign clubs. Canada has its own ice hockey high schools.

Goessens describes this Dutch exodus as a waste. “It costs parents a lot of money and the Netherlands is losing talent.”

In the women’s team, you play more freely and more confidently. You don’t have to worry about physical exams.

Ice hockey star Zoe Barbier talks about the difference between the men’s and women’s teams

That is why she wants to set up an ice hockey academy in Sittard Gielen, where fifteen-year-old girls stay indoors and can do school sports and sports every day. In April, it will begin a week-long trial trip with the Ice Hockey Association.

Fun and opportunities

But until then, women’s ice hockey needs to be put on the map. To get the girls to play together more often, Goessens started a women’s competition with a number of other champions.

It started small, with four clubs. But now nine are participating. All levels and ages mixed. There is not enough ice time for women to train regularly. But a game every weekend is possible.

They cross the whole country, from Jilin to Heerenveen. For some girls, these are the only games they play because they are not considered good enough to compete with boys. Others are part of a select squad and are now playing at least two games per weekend.

“The competition is basically about having fun and giving the girls the chance to play matches with each other,” says Barbier, who also recently worked as an assistant coach for girls under 18. Together with fellow TeamNL teammate Brett Wortel, she started the first women’s team in Amsterdam last year, the Amsterdam Tigers women.

Zoe Barber

Zoe Barbier, coach Max Farrell and Brett Wortel of the Amsterdam Tigers women

The Internationals wrote a multi-year plan and have a clear vision, Wortel says. “We want to raise the level of women’s ice hockey in the Netherlands.”

It is played by girls as young as twelve, who are part of the boys’ selection team, as well as recreational players on their team. And so are they themselves, Orange International in their twenties.

feeling proud

“It’s not about us playing as best we can, but above all about our girls’ development and the ability to feel proud on the ice,” Wortell says. So they prefer not to score themselves, but to pass the disk on to other players.

Both women desired to have the opportunity to play with girls in their youth.

“On the women’s team you play more freely, with more self-confidence,” says Barbier, who previously stood on the ice with women at the highest level in Austria.

“You don’t have to worry about the body check, you have time to puck check, because the women are slower. With the Red Eagles, the opponent only has to take off once and it’s me.”

Dutch Ice Hockey Association

Netherlands – Austria U18 match

How did you manage to compete in the men’s league? She learned to make up for her lack of speed and strength. “I can read the game really well, and I see that with all women. And you play more tactically.”

little success

Goessens and the other champions see how their efforts slowly bear fruit: women’s competition, active recruitment targeting girls via social media, and a girls’ day securing more new registrations.

According to the Ice Hockey Federation, 15 percent of all ice hockey players are now women. Five years ago it was still five percent.

“It’s a great sport, one that should be accessible to everyone,” Goossens says.

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