“A butterfly made of steel” -Betty Jouanny, French forward for Brynäs IF

Betty Jouanny is recovering from ankle surgery. The 5-foot-2, 120-pound forward for Brynäs IF of the Svenska damhockeyligan (SDHL), the top women’s league in Sweden and one of the premier women’s leagues in the world, recently had five pins and one plate inserted into her right ankle. Jouanny, frustratingly, suffered a season ending broken ankle January 11th against league rival Leksand IF. Even tougher to swallow, the injury occurred just a week after her twenty-fifth birthday. And while such an injury could understandably be demoralizing to anyone, Betty Jouanny asserts in a social media post to her friends, family, teammates, coaches and fans that, “The difference between who you are and who you want to be is the work that you put in. I am just working hard to make my comeback. Everyday is not easy; it is mentally hard but you can’t change what happened. It is in this period that family and friends are very important – when you can’t use your legs, you can use your arms. If you want to train you always can; no excuses . It is just your motivation and the work that you put in”. Betty used a photo of herself doing pullups in a full leg cast to accompany this post. Like she said, no excuses.

betty-jouanny-pullups
No excuses. Despite having a cast on her right led, Betty Jouanny continues to workout and comeback even better than before (Photo provided courtesy of Betty Jouanny).

And I am very fortunate that Betty Jouanny has afforded me an interview while she is just a matter of weeks into her recovery. We talk about her life, about her hockey roots, and about her future aspirations for her personal career and for women’s hockey.

Although Jouanny plays in Sweden, she is actually from France. Born in the city of Annecy, she spent most of her life growing up in Chamonix; just over an hour’s drive away. As Jouanny tells me, “my town Chamonix is the most beautiful place to go skiing in all of Europe”. Having looked at photos of her hometown, it is easy to see why. Originally a gymnast, Jouanny gave hockey a try and instantly fell in love with the sport at the young age of six. “In Annecy I first did gymnastics, but after I moved to Villard-de-Lans I received a flier to try hockey. I gave it a go, and loved it immediately. I played hockey at Les Ours de Villards de Lans (an elite hockey school in that city) from the ages of six to nine with the boys. It was very good for me because it is a very big hockey club, and I was fortunate because they formed me into a good player”.

I am able to make a connection with Jouanny in more ways than one. While I have visited France three times myself and have a sincere love for her country, we find common ground with our hockey interests too. “I have two favorite hockey players”, she tells me. “Patrick Kane because of his stickhandling (Kane being from my hometown of Buffalo) and also T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals (Oshie is currently one of my favorite players in today’s NHL)”.

In 2008 at the age of 15, Betty Jouanny began representing France in major international hockey tournaments; something that she has continued to do for nearly a decade. The first one being the 2009 IIHF World Women’s U18 Division I championships which were held in her homeland in the city of Chambéry which took place from December 28th, 2008 until January 2nd, 2009; just days before her sixteenth birthday. In four tournament games, Jouanny had 2-assists and France would take the silver medal at the tournament. “I am always incredibly happy to represent my country every time I have the opportunity to do so. It is an honor to represent my country, and I am very proud because I love to play with the French team. All athletes dream to play for their countries, so when you have the chance to do it you must to do it 200-percent!”.

betty-france-2
A superb stickhandler, Betty Jouanny is always very proud to represent France internationally (Photo credit: Stephane Heude).

Building off of that first U18 tournament, Jouanny was named team captain of the 2010 squad and she would absolutely sparkle. While France would take another silver medal, this time in Piestany, Slovakia, it was Jouanny’s performance in tournament play that fully speaks to her words on giving 200-percent. She would average a goal per game, as she scored 5-goals in 5-games to go along with 3-assists as well. This would make Betty France’s leading scorer for the games, and would place her in the top-ten for overall scoring by players participating in the tournament. To Jouanny though, being given the captaincy is an even greater individual honor. “I did score a lot of points in that tournament, which was good for me. But to be named captain it is amazing. Yes, it is just a letter on your jersey, but you must show the right way for you team. Be an example both on the ice and off. This was my last year with the U18 team, and I loved it because I like to have responsibilities. It is an honor to have the “C” when you represent your country; it means that the coach and the players believe in you”.

Since her last U18 tournament, Betty Jouanny has played for France in six Women’s World Championship tournaments, taking bronzes in 2012 and 2015, silver in 2011 and 2016, and the gold medal in 2013. Within those tournaments combined she has appeared in 29-games and registered 5-goals and 9-assists for 14-points. Asked to name her most memorable of the six tournaments, Jouanny opts for the most recent; the silver medal finish in 2016. “That tournament was definitely the best because a silver medal in the Group-A Division I tournament was the best result ever for the French women’s national team”. In this particular tournament Jouanny recorded a single assist in 5-games. To me, it speaks to her character that she would pick a tournament where the team and country faired their best, as opposed to any other tournament where she may have had better numbers statistically. Jouanny has firm beliefs when it comes to how an athlete should compete and doing what is best for the team. Character builds character in others and in sports programs. At only 25, it is obvious that Jouanny will be able to impart her experience and ideals into younger players on the French national team.

betty-jouanny-silver-trophy
Betty Jouanny helped to lead France to a silver medal finish at the Group-A Division I Women’s World Championships; France’s best performance to date for the women’s national team (Photo provided courtesy of Betty Jouanny).

And hopefully that will happen at the upcoming 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea. Jouanny has already participated in one Olympic qualifier tournament for France in 2013 (a goal and 2-assists in 3-games), but unfortunately due to her injury, it does not appear that she will be readily available to help her team for this year’s qualifying tournament to decide who goes to the ’18 Winter Games. “To play in the Olympic Games is the dream when you are an athlete. Every time when I would watch the Olympics on TV I would say to my parents that it is my dream to play in the Olympics, and that I don’t want to stop my hockey career without having played in an Olympic Games. So we (Team France) have the qualification tournament in Japan in February, and if we win we get to go to the Olympics. Obviously I cannot go because of my broken ankle. I am devastated but this is sports, and I can’t do anything about it except carry on”.

This reminds me of another post on social media that I saw Jouanny make recently, and I know that she is keeping everything in perspective. Jouanny said, “sometimes you don’t decide what happens in your life; you just must to accept it. You just need to think about the future and your comeback. If you want something and you work hard for it, the hard work always pays off. It is your motivation, your mindset and what you want. Stay strong – never give up!”.

betty-stephane-houde
One of the most decorated and experienced players for France’s women’s national team, Betty Jouanny dreams of someday playing in an Olympic Games (Photo credit: Stephane Heude).

Describing herself as a player, Jouanny tells me, “I am a stickhandling player that creates the game around me. I work hard going both ways; both offensive and defensive zones. I have a strong physical capacity”. That being the case, it is no wonder that Brynäs IF eagerly sought her services. Jouanny has played for Brynäs IF for four seasons now and has demonstrated some extremely solid play for the hockey club. I became curious to know how she ended up with the team, considering that she is from France and did her university studies at Université de Montréal in Quebec, Canada. “I had already wanted to play hockey in Sweden, so when I finished my university in Canada I wrote to Brynäs to ask  if they were interested in me. I sent them a video of me, and they responded that yes, they were definitely interested. So I am very happy to play my fourth season with the team. I get to play with some really strong players like Sara Grahn, Anna Borgqvist, Lina Bäcklin, and Josephine Holmgren; all of whom have already played in the Olympic Games”.

One of Jouanny’s most recognizable strengths when she plays is her ability to win face-offs. For example, if you look at Jouanny’s favorite tournament – 2016’s Group-A Division I silver medal winning tournament – she finished eighth overall in face-offs for the tournament winning 53.25-percent of the draws that she took. If you go even further back though, to when she captained the 2010 U18 squad, she finished one spot out of the top-ten (eleventh overall) and was the leader in face-offs for France with a percentage of 45.77-percent. Needless to say, winning face-offs is a major attribute of Betty’s and something that she has developed over time. She teases me though, and refuses to share her secret. “The face-off is my best strength as a center. I train a lot during the summer to perfect it,  but it’s my secret and I am not going to say what I do”, she smiles and laughs.

betty-jouanny-brynas
In 111-games so far with Brynäs IF Betty Jouanny has 49-points (Photo provided courtesy of Betty Jouanny; Credit: Bauer Hockey).

While playing for Brynäs IF, Betty has tallied 23-goals and 26-assists for 49-points in 111-games. Her finest season with the team, before her injury, came during her second season when she rattled off 10-goals and 7-assists in 28-games. “That was my best season for sure. But I am disappointed because this season I already scored 12-points in 24-games, and I really would have liked to get to the 20-point mark, but my season is over. But – I am going to do it next season for sure!”. I love her determination and I wholeheartedly believe that she will pass that point plateau; no question at all.

I have never had to recover from a major injury like Betty Jouanny is currently doing now. I would have to imagine that I would not have the fortitude or the same positive outlook that she is imbuing in her recovery. But I guess that is part of what makes Betty so different from many athletes. A “never say die” kind of attitude; like trying to chisel through granite, there is just no breaking this girl. Like she said earlier, take her leg – she still has an arm.

Jouanny tells me the most important things that she has learned in life through hockey. “Respect – Work – Be Humble – Live and Share Together!”. With this outlook, she will be back on the ice in no time. “The two most important things that I want to achieve in my career are to win the World Championship and to go up to the Elite Group, and to go to the Olympic Games”, she says. When the Olympic qualifications are being played in Japan come February, you can count on me rooting for France so that Betty Jouanny gets to realize her dream of the Olympic Games come 2018. And when they take place, she will be back and readier than ever. In my mind, seeing the photos of her workouts and her recovery, I feel as if she will be a steel butterfly of sorts. She will shed her cocoon, and have taken her game to a whole new level.

Best of luck in your recovery, Betty, and see you on the ice soon!

 

Advertisements

“Net Presence”: Henriette Behn, Färjestad BK forward

While she tells me that her favorite hockey players are a fellow countryman and arguably the most recognized player presently in women’s hockey, I liken Henriette Behn’s style of play to more of a robust forward who is not afraid to take a puck to the inside of the thigh or the shaft of a stick plastered across the back. Say, a Tomas Holmstrom. Or a Johan Franzen. She has net presence. “My hockey heroes are Hilary Knight and Mats Zuccarello. I wouldn’t say that I am a sniper, no. I would say that I am more of a hardworking type of player. A player who you can put in front of the opponent’s net to screen the goalie and make space for my teammates”. And thus far in her young career, Henriette Behn has done a very admirable job of that.

Born New Year’s Eve of 1998, Behn’s passion for the game was initially instilled in her by her father. “I was four years old when I attended my first hockey school, and then I joined an actual team later that same year. It was my dad who introduced me to the sport. The fact that he was a hockey coach at that time made me become interested in trying it”. Behn hails from the city of Oslo; the capital and most populous city in the country of Norway.

henriette-fbk
Knowing her way most effectively around the front of the net, Henriette Behn is a highly promising player for Färjestad BK (Photo provided courtesy of Värmlands Folkblad; Photo credit: Håkan Strandman).

Though opportunities to play hockey may have been limited to a certain extent, that does not mean that the quality or competition was poor for Behn to partake in. Quite the contrary, actually. “In Oslo there are about five ice rinks so the opportunities to play are definitely there. However being a girl and playing in Oslo of course lessens those opportunities. But in my mind it has only been a positive thing for me. With fewer opportunities to play on girls teams, I have played on boys teams since I was five. This has only been for the better when it comes to my development”.

One of the top hockey clubs in the city of Oslo is Vålerenga, and Behn was able to grow through the ranks of their program since her earliest ages in the game. “I played for Vålerenga’s boys team from when I was five until I was thirteen”, at which age Behn was old enough to play in Norway’s women’s elite league. Having already been a member of Vålerenga for such a considerable length of time, it was only natural that Behn joined their women’s team. “There are six teams in Norway’s women’s league, in the elite series”, she explains. “Vålerenga performed good during the 5-years I played with the team. We always managed to put together a good group of hardworking players who all had a winning mindset. Often our results led us to leading the entire league”. Across those 5-years, Behn appeared in 46-career games in the Norwegian women’s league for Vålerenga and tallied 12-goals and 6-assists.

It was during this time with Vålerenga that Henriette Behn had the opportunity to represent her country in three consecutive Women’s U18 Division-I Championships as a member of the Norwegian national team; each opportunity having been a true honor for her. “It meant a lot to me. You feel a special type of pride when wearing your nation’s jersey, and you naturally always feel very honored when representing your own country by doing something that you love”. I like how Behn recognizes the value of this, and maybe sees it a step further than many athletes. Not only did she have three opportunities (thus far) to represent Norway on the international hockey stage, but she did so – and she was the one to say it – by doing something that she truly loves. Rarer of an opportunity still. When you can combine skill with love and channel it into one focus, one mindset, it is an experience that so few get to feel. And Behn has achieved a trifecta of sorts in that respect.

14-h-u18wwc-aut_nor-028
Battling for position against Denmark, Norway’s Henriette Behn (in white) fights to establish position in front of the opposing net (Photo credit: Claire de Groot).

Behn’s first go-round in this particular IIHF tournament was in 2014 for the games in Füssen, Germany.  Barely 15-years old at the time, Behn would play in all 5-tournament games for the Norwegian team. But seeing limited ice time likely due to her age and experience level, Behn more so utilized this first tournament to gain invaluable experience for future tournaments ahead; the likes of which she could not have foreseen the dividends it would eventually pay. “That first tournament was a motivation to me because it was my first time on the national team. The speed in the games and the tempo in general was much faster than I was used to in Norway. So this was definitely something that helped prepare me for future international tournaments”. In the 5-games Behn was held pointless and the Norwegians would finish fourth overall with 2-wins and 3-losses.

Then came 2015. And for Behn and Team Norway, it would be a tournament for the ages. A full tournament already under her belt, Behn tied for the team lead in goal scoring with 3-goals and a whopping 25-percent shooting percentage throughout the tournament. For a second year player on the national team who does not consider herself a sniper, she was on fire. Describing her mindset when she is in the game, Behn tells me “I’m a player who hates to loose; the coach can expect that I always give 100-percent in the games that I play”. The fire in her belly sparked Norway to a 3-1-1 tournament finish and the silver medal at the games in Vaujany, France.

14-h-u18wwc-nor_svk-033
Seen here fighting for a lose puck against Slovakia, Henriette Behn (center in red) is routinely found at the opposing goaltender’s doorstop (Photo credit: Claire de Groot).

Arguably though for Behn, the most exciting moment of the series came when she scored the game tying goal against Slovakia with only 32-seconds left in the game to send it to overtime; firing a loose puck past goaltender Olga Jablonovska. After an extra session was played and no decisive winner, the two teams went to a shootout which saw the Norwegians come away with 5-4 victory, well on their way to the silver. Describing that pinnacle moment in which she scored, Behn recalls, “That game was thrilling because the intensity was just so high! I remember I was put on the ice towards the end of regulation so that I could screen the goalie. I remember thinking that I just had to score. When I got that shot from my teammate and managed to score on that rebound, that is a feeling that I cannot even describe”.

And how could she? Once again, it comes down to rarity that few ever get to experience. A tying goal against another nation that keeps your own country’s medal hopes alive. But this is a prime example of Behn’s net presence and when it mattered the most. She also is able to put that medal run into perspective for me. “To win that silver medal was an amazing experience. That meant a lot to me and it’s something I will never forget. Our team was strong that season, and everyone was motivated to show what we really could do. I think this team spirit and the fact that I was in really good shape that season led me to having such strong tournament”.

 

henriette-pursuit
Henriette Behn in hot pursuit of the puck while playing for Vålerenga in the Norwegian women’s ice hockey league (Photo credit: Kenneth Myrhe).

2016 was Behn’s final U18 tournament appearance and Norway could not recreate their success from the year prior. For Behn, recognizing that it was her last tournament at this particular level was a slightly surreal experience even though she enjoyed it as a whole. “I thought it was a good tournament because that year there were many new players in the group. But of course, it was kind of weird knowing it was my final tournament with the U18 team”. Maybe even somewhat ironic too, that her final statistics from the tournament are incorrect, which she jokingly points out. “I had two goals in that tournament”, she laughs; “the stats are wrong”. Officially, the IIHF has her down as having 1-goal and 1-assist in the 5-game tournament. Norway finished fourth overall with another record of 2-wins and 3-losses.

Though these were Behn’s last U18 appearances on the Norwegian national team, they are likely not her last for Norway, nor does she expect them to be. “I was actually in Hungary with the Norwegian national team back in November (2016), so I hope that I will have the opportunity to play for them going forward. This is something I work hard towards and have in mind every time I workout, so it is definitely something that I am striving for”.

So while she is actively preparing herself for the next opportunity to play for her homeland, what is Henriette Behn’s current status in hockey? Färjestad BK; a hockey club in Sweden that is one tier lower than their Swedish elite women’s hockey league. Asked about the decision to leave the familiar confines of Vålerenga, Behn tells me that she opted for Färjestad BK to further develop her skill level. “I was looking for a more challenging season, and wanted to develop myself even more. As a hockey player this is naturally something you always strive for. Therefore, I was contacted by the Färjestad BK’s coach and received an offer to play there this season. I felt like this was an appropriate league for me where I could develop”.

14-h-u18wwc-nor_svk-050
Here once again Henriette is jousting in front of the Slovakian net, anticipating a deflection or a rebound (Photo credit: Claire de Groot).

And does Behn hold out hope that Färjestad BK may even be promoted to Sweden’s top women’s league? “Yes, there is a possibility that my team will be promoted to the top league. This is what we are working for during the season, so it will definitely be cool to see how we will do in these qualifications. For my part, I definitely want to work hard to reach this goal. And that is to play in the top Swedish women’s league!”. In 6-games this season with Färjestad BK, Behn has 2-goals and 2-assists.

It is interesting to see how this young lady, who knows her way around the front of the net, has no issues with trudging through the trenches in order to better herself. She gets it. She has it figured out. I do not really like the adage of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. It is far too overused and has lost its meaning. But there is something to be said about paying ones dues (to snatch a different phrase). It seems that Henriette Behn has found the proper niche where she can not only challenge herself physically on the ice, but where she also can have an attainable goal in her sights. And while that goal is an attainable one, it is not something that she can just skate right up to and take whenever she pleases. “Nothing comes easy”, she tells me. “You have to put in effort and hard work to get where you want to. And you have to sacrifice a lot of things to reach your goals. But hard work always pays off in the end”.

Thank you, Henriette! Very well stated.

 

 

 

Emilie Kruse; Norwegian U18, Linköping HC forward

The 2017 Women’s World U18 Divison-I Championships for hockey will be taking place from January 8th, 2017 through January 14th in Budapest, Hungary. Gearing up for the tournament is a 17-year old young lady who is already a three-time veteran of this particular soiree. Meet Emilie Kruse, a forward for Team Norway. “It is always an honor to represent my country, and I appreciate every opportunity that I get to wear the polar bear on my chest”, she says. Kruse is most eager and passionate about the upcoming showdown in Budapest and for the game of hockey in general. “Yes, I’ll be playing in my last U18 tournament. Being a veteran of two other previous tournaments, I will do my best to be a good example and a leader to the younger players. It is important to be dedicated to the game, and willing to sacrifice everything to achieve your goals, and I believe that we as a team are all going into the tournament with this same goal”. Poised and professional for sure, even at 17.

Knowing that it is not necessarily common for a female player to participate in more than two U18 tournaments, I became curious to know more about this young Norwegian. “When I was 3-years old I started to skate with my dad at the rink in my hometown in Norway, and I started to play shortly after that”. Kruse is from the town of Halden, Norway; one of the southernmost points of the country and very close to its border with Sweden. “My hockey life in Halden was always great”, Kruse says. “I got the opportunity to play hockey with boys ever since I started playing. I played with the same team until I decided to move to Sweden”. Kruse presently lives and plays hockey in the city of Linköping, Sweden.

img_2109
Hailing from Halden, Norway, 17-year old Emilie Kruse plays for Linköping HC in Sweden (Photo provided courtesy of Emilie Kruse).

Kruse’s love for the game seems greatly fostered by her parents; both of whom were players themselves. And while she cannot quite put her finger on what most drew her to the sport, the fact that it was a “family affair” began to groom her interest from the time she was a toddler. “Since I was only 3-years old, I cannot really tell what made me interested in hockey, but my dad and my mom used to play hockey when they were younger, and even my brother played at the same time as me for a while. So I guess that it just came naturally for me. No one ever forced me to play but of course it had an effect on me when I was younger that my mom and dad used to play. I used to play soccer as well, but that came to an end when I had to pick one of them; it wasn’t even a question which sport I was going to choose over the two”, Kruse tells me.

“I wouldn’t say that there were a lot of opportunities for me to play hockey in Halden”, she recalls from her childhood. “There was really one team, and that was it. Of course, there were other hockey teams nearby, but they belonged to other cities, and for me that was not an option”. From conversing with Emilie Kruse, I garner that she continuously endeavors to develop her hockey skills and that she had recognized at an early age she may need to seek opportunities elsewhere if she wanted to heighten her abilities. “It was when I decided to play with a women’s team that I began to look to other cities and countries to play. I had to play with a team from another city because my team in Halden didn’t have a women’s team; that was when I decided to play with Sparta Sarpsborg”.

f
Prior to joining Linköping HC, Emilie Kruse played for Sparta Sarpsborg in her homeland of Norway. (Photo credit: Kenneth Myhre).

Sarpsborg is located in the same region as Halden, Østfold County, and dates back to the time of the Vikings as one of the oldest inhabited regions of the area. Only 30-minutes away by car, the close proximity between the two towns and the increased level of hockey brought about a virtual “no brainer” for Kruse to choose which path to take. “I decided to go to Sparta Sarpsborg because it was not far from home, and the team took me in before I was old enough to play with them”. Emilie Kruse actually started to practice with Sarpsborg a full year and a half before she was old enough to play with the team and with this particular league. “You have to be 13-years old to play in the league. It was an easy choice because I was always welcome with the team, and they were known for having a good team spirit”.

norway
Anytime that Emilie Kruse is able to don the Norwegian polar bear on her jersey, she considers it an honor (Photo provided courtesy of Emilie Kruse).

At only 5-foot 3-inches and 120-pounds, Kruse’s small stature never gave her reason to shy away from physical play. And although she was even smaller as a 13-year old, she earned herself a bit of a reputation on the ice with Sarpsborg. During her 47-career games with the team, Kruse registered 56-penalty minutes in addition to her 9-goals and 11-assists. She explains her style during those early years and how it has since transitioned: “Especially in my first two seasons in Sarpsborg, I was very small and didn’t follow with the tempo of the game. I was so little, and I got a good amount of hooking, tripping and slashing calls. I would not say that I played a particularly intense style of hockey at the time, but as I got taller and quicker I started to bodycheck. It’s hard to tell exactly why I did that, but it may have had something to do with me playing with boys and girls at the same time; I didn’t separate between two types of intensity in my game”.

I am especially impressed by Emilie Kruse’s own self-awareness as a hockey player, and how she is truly  able to take an inward look at her own game. Kruse goes on to say, “Now I feel that I play a more intense style of hockey. I am that type of player that can be very rough in a duel to win the puck, and especially when we have those really important games. It’s a physical game”, she says, “and I believe that I have to play with an edge to be the best for my team. We have so many good players in the league that I presently play in that being physical is becoming a part of my game. And for me, that’s how I can contribute for my own team”.

Kruse does not have to look far for role models, nor in less obvious corners of the “hockey globe” to find inspiration and further blossom her game. “I know that it’s a very original answer”, she says with a grin, “but if I am picking a hero from the NHL it would have to be Sidney Crosby. I think the overall package that he presents is highly impressive. The way he uses his body to protect the puck, and how he makes it possible to take advantage of his edge control to gain speed. He is naturally a good role model for me because of the way he works on the ice, and the happiness he gets when he is repaid for his hard work”.

In addition to Crosby, Kruse can find plenty of inspiration among her teammates with her current hockey club Linköping HC. Olympians Jennifer Wakefield, Denise Altmann, Florence Schelling, and Swedish legend Pernilla Winberg all comprise the roster. “I have the opportunity to play on the same team as many great hockey players, and I have even gotten to play against some others as well. I had the opportunity too to participate at the IIHF’s High Performance camp this summer, and got to listen to players tell their story and tell us about their careers”.

img_1910
With Linköping HC, Emilie Kruse plays for one of the most elite hockey clubs in the world. (Photo provided courtesy of Emilie Kruse).

And so how did Kruse end up in Sweden to play with one of the most historic hockey clubs in the history of the game (and that’s not just meaning in Sweden!)? “When I was younger my dad always took the family to watch Swedish Elite League games in Gothenburg, and I guess that got me to dreaming about wanting to play in Sweden someday. When I was playing for Sparta Sarpsborg I knew a man named Jens Brändström that had moved to Sarpsborg from Linköping, and he happened to coach me sometimes. He told me about Linköping, and that they were starting a gymnasium for girls, and he wondered if that would be of interest to me. Jens set me up on a tryout that Linköping was having in connection with the upcoming gymnasium, and I was lucky enough to be accepted”. 

For Kruse and her fellow countrywomen, the opportunity to play hockey in Sweden is a bit of a dream come true and is something to be held in high regard. “I think that many girls in Norway really want to play in Sweden. It’s a totally different league with players from all over the world; that right there naturally makes a higher tempo game. Swedish hockey for women is well spoken of in Norway, in general”. Having started with Linköping during the 2015-16 season, Kruse has already appeared in 43-games with the club between two seasons, potting 2-goals and an assist in that time. “Linköping is known for having a great association and for developing young players to become even better, and to be able to play in the US or wherever they would like to play. And for me, it is an honor to be a member of this association”.

In all, that is a vast amount of training, competition and experience for a young player like Kruse to have gained in a relatively short period of time. After all, she is only 17-years old and is playing on a roster with women who have won multiple Olympic medals in some instances. Needless to say, Kruse is enriched with the intangibles needed to be an elite international player herself, and has already made good use of them in two previous U18 competitions representing Norway.

img_0494
#18 Emily Kruse (Johansen) celebrates with her teammates for the Norwegian women’s national U18 team. (Photo provided courtesy of Emily Kruse).

2015 brought elation to the Norwegian women’s U18 team. A 3-1-1 finish in that year’s tournament in Vaujany, France gave Kruse and Team Norway an unprecedented silver medal at the tournament. “The silver medal is definitely one of my greatest achievements so far. I did not get much ice time except for some shifts in the first game of the tournament, but it was a unique experience and a motivation boost for the following year’s world championship”. The Norwegian’s tied for the tournament lead for fewest goals against; a mere 9-goals in 5-games. A particularly exciting matchup was Norway’s fourth game of the competition; a heart racing 5-4 shootout victory over Slovakia. The game featured a large amount of heated penalties between the two teams (slashing, elbowing, and illegal hit calls) with the Norwegians coming out victorious on Anniken Olafsen’s game-winning shootout goal. Still feeling a sense of exhilaration as she thinks back, Kruse says “I just remember that I was very nervous because of the shootout, but we won the game in the end and that’s all that matters”.

Another year older brought about a larger role for Emilie Kruse in 2016 for that year’s U18 tournament held in Miskolc, Hungary. Even though they would falter during her second major IIHF competition and end up in a fourth place by tournament end (2-wins, 3-losses), Kruse was a key contributor for the Norwegians. “For me it was a good tournament. I got a lot of ice time. Our coach trusted me and played me all the time. It was a totally different experience from the championship that I had the year before”. This 2016 go-round would see her finish with 2-assists in 5-games and have a plus-1 overall.

Entering into her third and final U18 tournament in only a matter of days, if there is anything that Norway can depend upon it is Emilie Kruse’s preparedness. Between the two prior tournaments and playing on a team as elite as Linköping HC, it is almost unbelievable the amount of experience that this little lady already has pinned to her résumé. But in talking with her too, another couple of things you can depend upon Emilie Kruse is her sense of humility and that self-awareness again as a hockey player.

img_0503
Wheeling away from a Hungarian player, Emilie Kruse (Johansen) #18 will represent Norway for third time on the national U18 squad in Hungary January 8th, 2017-January 14th in Budapest, Hungary (Photo provided courtesy of Emilie Kruse).

“I’m a technical player with a lot of energy. Sometimes I still need to remember and remind myself that it is necessary to play a full 60-minute game, and that is something that I have been working on”. This is what I mean by Kruse’s humility; she can critique herself with no issue and is always looking for ways to better her game. “Even though I consider myself pretty young, I have had a lot of opportunities to visit places I would never have seen if it wasn’t for hockey. I have also made a lot of friends from different countries that I will never forget”. Kruse appreciates what she has. No question whatsoever.

Some final words from Emilie to me: “As I said, I am very young, but a thing that I have learned during these years of playing hockey is that nothing comes for free. If you want something, you have to work hard to achieve your goal, and even if you meet challenges on the way you just have to keep going because eventually you will get repaid for your hard work”. Words to live by from a remarkable young woman. Thank you Emilie, and best wishes to you and the Norwegian team in Hungary!