With tickets to the ice hockey final of the Vancouver winter games reportedly selling in hockey-crazed Canada on eBay for as much as fifty thousand U.S. dollars, a more affordable option is offered to Cracovians in the form of a benefit party on Sunday at the English Football Club. The “Feta Finałowa” is to be attended by local players and fans, and will include a raffle with prizes. The event is being organised by Karolina Cieslova of the Tylko Hokej Association.
When Cieslova came to Poland from the Czech Republic seven years ago on a scholarship for persons of Polish ancestry born abroad, she brought with her experience that very few young Polish people of either gender could claim — two years of playing ice hockey. When she heard about the newly formed local women’s ice hockey team, she was among the first to sign up. That experience paid dividends on the ice form the very first; “when I came here I was like a star with those two years [of experience]”, she told the Krakow Post on Wednesday 24 February. Now she is working to help provide the kind of experience that she benefited from to the boys and girls of Krakow.
It turned out that her presence on the women’s team was against the rules of the league, and for a time she was prohibited from playing. The basis of the rule was to prevent strong foreign players from dominating and taking places on the ice that could go to Polish women. “Maybe they were not afraid of me, but they might have thought that others would come and take over.” In the end, she was able to return, and continued to play as captain of Krakow’s only women’s hockey squad.
While Cieslova has moved on from her role as a player, she is still very much involved in the local ice hockey scene, and with her former teammate, goaltender Sabina Szablowska, she founded the Hockey First and Foremost Association to develop opportunities for young people who want to play and enjoy the sport. While their initial focus was to aid the women’s team, they have expanded with the inclusion of the manager of the local amateur league team, the Żubry [the Bison], and supporting the youth programs in the city.
Local ice hockey suffers from a serious lack of available ice time, and economic factors force the owners of the local rink to push amateurs and the women’s team to the margins, playing and practicing late at night and early in the morning on weekends. “We want to create access for girls of course, but also for guys who are too old to start professional careers, so they can try the sport,” said Cieslova. “This is not a goal for the nearest future, but we would like to see Krakow build a new, proper ice rink.”
The event on Sunday will be among the organization’s most ambitious fundraisers since its inception. In addition to seeing the Olympic gold medal hockey match on a big screen, fans can win prizes, and will have an opportunity to meet local legend and Polish Olympic team forward Roman Steblecki, the top scorer in Polish league history, and participate in an auction of a jersey from current Russian national team and Washington Capitals superstar Aleksander Ovechkin, among others.