One of several new additions to the Whale this upcoming season is center Katerina “ Katka” Mrazova from the University of Minnesota-Duluth, via the Czech Republic. We asked Katerina if she liked to be addressed as Katerina or Katka and she stated “I like both. Katerina is just longer so when it’s not formal, Katka is ok too” Cetacean Nation fans have already read a bit about Katka here. We learned about her recent success at the World Inline Hockey Championships, and our #43 Huey Huertas has commented in her article here that “They (Katka and Michelle Lowenhielm) are both hard working, talented hockey players and even better people off the ice.“ Katka took some time this week to discuss her voyage to the Pod and her transatlantic hockey career, with Cetacean Nation. So let’s find out some more about our talented European Whale!
Since we knew about the silver medal she won at this year’s World Inline Hockey Championship last week, we asked Katerina about that sport. She told us “ I can say I have a lot of inline hockey experiences. I have been playing inline hockey since twelve and that was my first time when I attended the Women’s World Championship. I was a "little" girl and it was a great experience for me.” Katka continued “Since then, I have completed a total of 8 World Championship from which I have two gold and three silver medals. Also, I was an assistant coach for the national team when I was injured. I love to play inline hockey. Every time, I have so much fun, and we always play in a relaxed atmosphere. I think it is a great additional sport in the summer for ice hockey.” Cetacean Nation thinks it is pretty awesome that a twelve year old could represent the Czech Republic in an international tournament!
So if that is where Katerina ended up, as an in-line hockey player as a twelve year old, we wondered how hockey and sports began for her. She explained “ I started to skate when I was three years old and I started because of my older brother. Back in that time, it was not normal that a girl would play hockey, so I had to play with boys. Now, when I look back, I am really happy that I did play with them. It was challenging and it helped me to get better. I played with them until I was eighteen” When we asked if all of that ice time was as a forward, Katka clarified “I have always played forward and I actually never really played a different post than center. However, I would say I am a more defensive forward.” She has been lauded by her college coaches for her play in the defensive zone, but also for her vision and quick hands and the ability to break out of the zone. Looking ahead, that approach should fit very nicely into the Whale scheme we’ve seen.
Katerina told us a little more about her early athletic career. She reminisced “ When I grew up, I also played soccer, basketball, ping-pong, and other sports. I always wanted to try everything I could, but all these sports were just on the side with hockey. I remember when I was around ten years old I wanted to change to a different sport. But hockey won and I never played a different sport that I would focus on as much as on hockey. I think every sport I played or tried, helped me to get better in hockey. I think it is important for kids to do multiple sports, rather than just focus on one. I think it helps to develop other techniques, which can transfer to other sports.” Katka’s participation in basketball and ping-pong certainly seem to Cetacean Nation, like sports that probably crossed over to hockey in terms of hand-eye coordination.
We asked Katerina to tell us a little about the hockey culture in and around Prague where she grew up, and what we should know about the Czech game.She explained “I think that Czech hockey has certain skills that are something like a tradition. And it is a past that connects a team together and forces players to have high skill with the stick. Also, I think creativity and intelligence are another Czech hockey culture sign. It is an honor for me and I am very happy to have this opportunity. I am really excited and can't wait to put the jersey on. I hope to see more Czech players in this league.” The international scope of the sport of hockey can be seen on the roster of the Czech National team, where seven current roster members have also skated for North American colleges.
With a rich culture in the sport in the country she represents, Cetacean Nation asked Katka what she enjoyed most about her various International competitions. She replied “International games and playing for the Czech National team is always like a holiday for me. Each game helps you to get better. Your achievements help you to move to the next level, and your failures help you get stronger. The national team is a lot about the mental strength of both the individual and the collective. That's where I see the great contribution of international competitions.” For the record, Katka the defensive minded center, has racked up forty-nine points in fifty-three games so far on the ice for the Czech National team!
So how does a young Czech hockey star become a UMD Bulldog? Katerina told us the remarkable story. “As a little girl I always wanted to play hockey over the big puddle (as we say in the Czech Republic), it was my dream. I did not quite understand how it is possible that girls’ hockey is played somewhere when there is no almost girl”s hockey in our country. Gradually, when I was 17, I found out that college hockey in the US is really good, so I wanted to try it. it was a great challenge.” And as Katka continued, in more ways than one. “ Unfortunately, I did not speak English. So, the first year, I went to play for Boston Blades and learn English. When I was there, one of my teammates, Jessica Koizumi, told me about UMD and the international players in their program. She helped me to contact the coaches and after they saw me play, they recruited me. I was very lucky and had a lot of people around me that helped me to get there and I am really thankful for the opportunity they gave me.” Cetacean Nation notes that our Jessica Koizumi Would later score the first goal in Whale history, which was the first goal in thee NWHL as well.
That Boston Blade team was pretty special, and Katerina and her teammates drank from the Clarkson Cup as Champions of our sister league, the CWHL. Katka was the very first European player to do so! The roster included several future Olympians and severa future NWHL players including eventual first year Whale Jessica Koizumi, Kate Buesser and our #4 Anya Battaglino. Cetacean Nation wanted to hear more about what that experience was like. Katka told us “It was great, but I was young. I did not know English: and I did not really realize at that time what big players were on the roster and with who I was actually playing against. I found out that later. Friends in the United States have provided me housing, sometimes brought me to practices, but many times I had to take a train with all my hockey gear. At that time, I did not even know how to buy a ticket. Now, when I look back it was a great, tough life experience Also, hockey wise, it was not easy either. I did not play the whole year before because I was injured, and without any shyness I went for it. I was young and I did not find it strange then. Today, I laugh at it but it was great. I realized that even women's hockey can be played at really, really good levels. It was an invaluable experience, and it was a ticket for college and the hockey scene in the USA.”
And that college as we’ve seen was the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and the legendary Bulldog hockey program. Katka made steady progress in the program her first two seasons, but was sidelined by an off season knee injury while training, and had to redshirt a campaign.. She came back strong in her final two campaigns finishing her career with twenty-five goals and fifty assists in 117 games. In an interview with the Duluth News Tribune when Katerina returned from her injury, line mate Ashleigh Brykaliuk summed her up this way “She moves the puck better than anyone. I could watch her all day. She has amazing patience with the puck, maybe the best player I’ve ever played with or against. Her puck skill, her hockey sense, it’s all above everyone else. When she has the puck, you don’t know where it’s going, but she’ll put it on your stick if you have it on the ice. It’s pretty cool to watch.”
Cetacean Nation wondered at what point during her career at UMD Katka began to think about the possibility of playing professional hockey. She answered “I started to think about the NWHL right after they started it. It is great that this competition is playing now. I like big challenges, and playing hockey for Whale is a great challenge! I had an offer from the CWHL and other offers from Sweden, but I wanted to play NWHL and the Whale talk was open, and the team and I understood how we can help each other in the next season. I am really excited.” Katka has an established off season training routine that not surprisingly incorporates in-line hockey, She explained “My off-season training is very similar every year. I change things up just at the gym every year, but they are just small adjustments to keep it interesting. I spend a lot of time at the gym, on the bike, playing inline hockey, and doing individual hockey skills on the ice.” Katerina continued “I look forward to meeting the fans. I believe we will be one hockey family and I want hockey to be fun for all of us. Together, we can achieve the highest Whale goals.”
Another Czech, writer Franz Kafka, once penned the thought that “By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it.” Well, an Isobel Cup Championship Season for the Connecticut Whale does not yet exist, but the passionate belief and corresponding play of our Whale can create that season for the Pod this year. Fins Up to our center ice magician Katerina “Katka” Mrazova, for sending us a “postcard from Prague” about her journey as a European Whale.