Kaltounkova impresses at 14
Kaltounkova impresses at 14
Young Czech shows knack for scoring & toughness
In the past, there have been a handful of players who have debuted at the IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship at the age of 14. This year is rather remarkable in that there are 10 of them – the Japanese and Finnish teams are particularly loaded with five and three, respectively, while Switzerland and the Czech Republic have one each.
Usually these players don't play a huge role in their initial tournament, but develop into team leaders in subsequent years. Kaltounkova, however, has started with a bang.
“Until November, I didn't even know if it was possible to play, because of my age,” said Kaltounkova, who won't turn 15 until April. “But then we found out I could and I started training with the national team.”
Not only has Kaltounkova shown a knack for timely scoring, but she also hasn't been shy about standing up for her teammates.
In both of the Czech Republic's group-stage wins against Japan and Finland, they trailed 2-1 in the third period. In both, it was Kaltounkova who scored the equalizer, showing an ability to perform under pressure. Keep in mind, an average of 1,783 spectators have watched the Czech team's four games in Prerov so far – much larger than Kaltounkova or most of her teammates have ever played in front of before.
“We had heard that lots of people would be coming to watch, but I didn't know how it would affect me personally,” she said. “I didn't really know what to expect because I'd never played in front of such large crowds before, but we've found that they've really been a boost for us, so to me it's all positive.”
In yesterday's quarter-final game against Russia, she showed another side of her game, challenging Russian captain Nina Pirogova – more than three years her senior – when one of the team's top offensive players was in trouble.
“When it all started I was in front of the net with another player,” Kaltounkova said, recalling the melee that occurred in the last two minutes. “But then I saw behind the net (Natalie) Mlynkova was on the ice and the Russian player was throwing punches at her head … I felt I had to do something.”
For her troubles, Kaltounkova was given a major penalty and game misconduct for fighting, but that's something she shrugs off.
“I'm not the type of player who fights all the time, I don't look for it, but when my teammates need me, I have no problem doing it,” she said matter-of-factly.
“When the team needs goals, I try to score a goal. Sometimes it happens, sometimes not, it's just a matter of luck sometimes. I think primarily, though, I'm a playmaker. I like passing and creating scoring chances.”
It should be noted that Kaltounkova has done all of that with a slight groin injury. In fact, she missed practice on Thursday after aggravating it on Wednesday.
“It started bothering me on the weekend, at the start of the tournament,” she explained, “and then in yesterday's game against Russia I collided with a player and banged my knee, which made it worse.”
She intends to be in the lineup on Friday against Finland, however. Don't tell her that playing for fifth place is a mean-nothing game.
“It's too bad we didn't make the semi-finals because that was our goal,” she said, “But now that we're in this situation, our goal is to win the last game. We'll be without two of our best players, but we'll do everything we can to be ready and give it all we've got.”
Next season, Kaltounkova is heading overseas to give all she's got at the Vermont Academy, where she will try to advance her hockey career. It's a bold move for someone who will be only 15 years old, going to a place where she doesn't know anybody.
“I haven't met anybody in person, but I've been in contact with some of the players, the coach, and school administrators on Facebook, and I have a good feeling about it,” she reasoned. “I'm already living and studying in a different city than my family to play hockey, so I'm not really worried about that, but who knows? Maybe at the moment I arrive at the airport in America, I'll feel differently.”
She's looking forward to Vermont, and the chance to go snowboarding, one of her hobbies away from hockey, and also making the two-hour trip to Boston to watch some NWHL hockey – a league she might get a chance to play in down the road if things go well. After college hockey, of course.
But what about back home, in the Czech national program?
“The Olympics, because we're definitely going to qualify,” she said confidently, “and the senior Women's World Championships. I'd like to win a gold medal, but even a silver or bronze would be good.
“Whatever happens in the future, though, on the ice or off, I just want to be happy … in whatever I do.”
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