ISBHF CHAMPIONSHIPS II: VOICES FROM KOSICE

Team USA Ball Hockey recently returned from Kosice, Slovakia with a Silver Medal from the International Ball and Street Hockey Federation World Championship! Three of our national team players, our #8 Colleen Murphy, #24 Sarah Hughson, and Witley Nichols (who plays for the Carolina Lady Hurricanes) shared some great content with us prior to the tournament. In their article ISBHF WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP: WHALE WATCHING. The trio gave us some great background on the sport and how they became involved. And, all three of our “correspondents” had a great tournament, Colleen played her usual tough defensive game throughout, and had two beautiful assists. Witley played a tenacious two way checking game, and scored a goal as well. And Sarah scored the first goal of the tourney for Team USA and added two assists, and was our Player of the Game vs Great Britain. And now all three of our Silver Medalists have also graciously shared some of their thoughts and experiences from their time in Kosice with their fans at Cetacean Nation.

If you were able to watch the game livestreams on hustle.sk, or even just watched the highlights, you would have noticed how physical the play was during the games. It was one of the first things Cetacean Nation asked the trio to weigh in on. Sarah told us “With it being my first time competing at that high of a level for ball hockey I was so surprised with how physical it was. I absolutely loved it though because the refs would really let us play the game and battle other players and earn the ball at the level of physicality that comes from ice hockey. On top of that the only padding we wear is helmets, shin guards, and gloves really so I came home with a lot of bruises. The girls on the team who have played before said that it is always that physical.” Colleen agreed, saying “Indeed, the play was very physical. That level of physicality is a part of the game at an elite level. It’s also very competitive and intense but adding physicality makes it more fun.” And Witley added “The physicality is definitely typical of elite level play. When each team fills their roster with extremely talented players who expect to win, the competitive nature brings the intensity up.”

We also wondered if there was an individual who caught their attention and who they thought played particularly well. Sarah replied “Honestly the girls on my team were all awesome. What I liked learning the most was everyone’s path to this tournament. We had a bunch of field hockey players, a bunch of ice hockey players, and a bunch of legit ball hockey players of a range of ages. People who live all over the country, played in college, professionally, just picked it up recently and others who have played their whole lives. Our team had a lot of talent and a really deep bench. We ran four lines of forwards and 4 sets of D and 2 goalies and I trusted and respected all of them. So talented and knowledgeable and all in it for the same goal, we really clicked throughout the tourney and I’m excited about this new group of friends and ball hockey world.”

And Witley offered “I was extremely impressed by the talented players that I had the privilege to play with and against. If I was to pick just one… I would have to go with Hughie (Sarah Hughson). Hughie has been playing ball hockey for about two months now and this was her first World Tournament. She absolutely crushed it. It’s a tough adjustment to go from ice hockey to ball hockey but I was extremely impressed by her natural talent and her ability to compete at the top level.”

Colleen had this to say about the Kosice trip in general:  “The experience as a whole was amazing. It’s difficult to pick out a favorite moment because anything we did whether it was playing, exploring the town, or having dinners together was fun and I made a ton of memories. Hockey-wise, The moments that stick out the most were beating the Czechs for the first time in program history and winning in OT against Slovakia. Celebrating moments like that with the team was a blast. Non-hockey related, i really enjoyed exploring Old Town Kosice. It was home to tons of cafes, restaurants, and beautiful cathedrals. I’m surprised on how quickly our team came together and developed chemistry. It was our first time playing together completely as a team, some teammates even meeting others for the first time too.“ Colleen added “Even though we came up short, I’m very thankful and happy to have brought home a silver medal. It was a once in a lifetime experience and I’m excited to see where ball hockey takes me next!”

Witley offered us this insight as well: “To be honest, every moment of this trip was a surprise for me. I traveled to an unfamiliar country to compete with a new team. Going into this, I had vague expectations but the reality of it all completely shattered those – in the best way possible. My least favorite part of the experience was the lack of air conditioning. Kosice was experiencing an unusual heat wave while we were there so we were all definitely missing the comforts that we had back home. Our hotel was very nice but it didn’t have air conditioning and Steel Arena was fantastic but they didn’t turn the air conditioning on for us during round robin games. My favorite part of the experience was the relationships that I built with my teammates. They made this trip so much fun and through it all, they became my family”.

Sarah responded “That’s a tough question because I loved every aspect of being on that trip and competing in the world championships. Being able to have enough free time to explore the area was really nice especially being my first time in Europe. The food was unbelievable I don’t think there was one meal I didn’t like. Being at the rink wearing USA colors and apparel was very cool, something I’ve dreamed of doing since I was a little kid. I think the biggest surprise was how intense the men’s games were. When Slovakia played the rink was packed and when you watch the men run it looks like they are skating it’s that fast. It really is an amazing sport and I hope the word about it gets out.”

Cetacean Nation was interested to discover that Steel Arena in Kosice is owned by US Steel, hence the name. On the livestream feeds the facility appeared quite impressive, so we asked about the rink as well. Sarah replied “Steel Arena was a really cool rink! It was huge and very hard to run in haha. I was surprised the old fashion city of Kosice had such an upscale rink but it was an experience on its own just being there.” Colleen recalled “The main venue was great and a lot of fun to play in. It was definitely different than other ball hockey arenas I’ve played at mostly because it’s an ice sheet turned to sport court and it obviously had a more stage like feel. There was a practice rink we played on as well which was much smaller in surface size, so there was an adjustment we all had to make when we had games there. Slovakia was experiencing higher than average temperatures which made the arena extremely hot. It was difficult to play in heat but we were able to put that aside and play hard.” And Witley summed it up, saying “Steel Arena is by far the largest venue that I’ve ever played in and it was absolutely beautiful. The stadium rink, the practice rink, the stands, the locker rooms… it was fantastic.” 

Colleen and Witley both we’re instructors at the Jr. NWHL Camp in Raleigh just a week after returning from Slovakia. Cetacean Nation Cetacean Nation has noted the growth of hockey in North Carolina, and the increasing number of NWHL players from the Tar Heel State. We wonder if the Carolina Lady Hurricanes might at some point, become an existing franchise joining the NWHL as the Whitecaps did? We didn’t ask about that, but we did want to know about any other ball hockey plans this summer. Witley answered “I do have more ball hockey this summer! In July I will be playing in Raleigh Street Hockey’s Summer Shootout 3v3 tournament and in August I will be at Cool Hockey Event’s Beach Bash tournament. As for ice hockey, my focus this summer will be on finalizing the rosters and schedules for the Carolina Lady Hurricanes teams.” On that note we’ll mention, although we are sure most of Cetacean Nation knows, Colleen will be preparing for the upcoming season with the Metropolitan Riveters. But If the announced schedule remained unchanged, we’ll still see her a minimum of four times vs the Pod next season. Fins Up to that!

Sarah as mentioned above, made her ball hockey debut on the international stage at Kosice and really enjoyed the experience too. She said “I am definitely going to play more ball hockey! I am a firm believer in playing multiple sports as a kid and that doesn’t change now. I actually stepped back on the ice the day after I got home for a summer league game so that will never change. I will be looking into local ball hockey rinks and leagues in CT for the summer and will probably convince my Choate girls to play.” Sarah left us with these words on the sport and the Tournament; Sarah added  “Ball hockey is an amazing sport! Watching it is so cool and playing is just unlike any other sport I’ve played. As someone who grew up playing street hockey with my dad and brothers it was amazing to be able to do that on a world center stage repping the United States. I think the biggest take away from my experience that id love to share with fans is that you should never be afraid to try something new! I would have easily regretted not taking this opportunity and now am excited for what is to come with me and this sport. Thanks again for following our journey! The support I received from old teammates and friends was surreal.” Fins Up to that!

And thanks again to Colleen, Witley & Sarah for bringing us along on their journey this summer, and giving us an insight into elite level ball hockey, and a window on how these amazing ice hockey players spend their “offseason”