Bemidji State senior goalie Zuzana Tomcikova had a slogan printed on the back of her helmet when she took the ice for Team Slovakia to face Team Canada in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game,” it read.
Tomcikova has played the underdog throughout her hockey career and that role continues this weekend in the WCHA playoffs as No. 6 seed BSU travels to No. 3 North Dakota for a best-of-three series. Game times are Friday, Saturday and Sunday (if necessary) at 2:37 p.m. at Ralph Engelstad Arena. The winner advances to the WCHA Final Face-Off next week in Duluth.
“We’re looking forward to the playoffs,” Tomcikova said. “It’s definitely interesting playing North Dakota again and I keep saying it’s one of my favorite games I’ve played in my career so far.”
The series is a rematch of last year’s playoff series the Sioux won in three games. North Dakota features the offense of Team USA stars Jocelyne Lamoureux and Monique Lamoureux-Kolls, so BSU head coach Steve Sertich knows his Olympic-caliber goalie from Bratislava is in for a formidable test yet again.
“She gives us a chance to win every time she’s in net,” BSU head coach Steve Sertich said. “I think the biggest thing is that she’s so consistent, a tough a goaltender to beat and there are some games where she’s amazing. She’s probably going to have to be amazing this weekend.”
The Beavers are 1-3-0 against UND this season with the lone win coming at the Sanford Center on Thanksgiving weekend.
“I think it’s going to be very good games no matter how many we play,” Tomcikova said. “We all want to win so we’re all looking forward to the puck drop on Friday.”
Tomcikova has been a key player in Bemidji State’s rise as a competitive program in the WCHA.
She holds every major BSU career goaltending record including saves (3,462), wins (41), games played (117), shutouts (18), goals against average (2.31) and save percentage (.929).
“Those things just happen and I’m happy that it happened,” Tomcikova said. “But it’s not something I’ll look back to and be like ‘look at all those records.’ That’s not me. I’m going to definitely remember the girls and the fun games we played. Those records are just an addition.”
Tomcikova needs 129 more saves to become second on the NCAA list for career saves and become the all-time leader in the WCHA for saves.
She is one of 30 nominees for the Patty Kazmaier Award, which is given to the top women’s college hockey player each year. She is one of four goalies on the list.
“There are so many great hockey players out there,” Tomcikova said. “When I read the list of who was on there and the people who didn’t get on there – it’s such a great honor.”
Tomcikova came at Bemidji State in part to a personal e-mail campaign to American college hockey programs and Sertich took a chance on her after seeing some video highlights.
She has been BSU’s No. 1 goalie since she stepped on campus in 2008 when the Beavers won just six games. BSU turned the corner in 2009 by winning 12 games and won 14 games last season.
Tomcikova has played in milestone games for the program: the first WCHA playoff series win in 2009, and the first home wins against Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth in 2010.
The Beavers reached No. 7 in the national poll this season – the program’s highest mark ever – in part due to wins against ranked opponents in Providence, Minnesota and UMD.
Tomcikova’s experiences away from the games and practices are just as meaningful to Tomcikova.
The times away from the rink have been just as meaningful to Tomcikova.
“We’ve always been a great group of girls no matter what year I pick,” Tomcikova said. “It’s not just about on the ice but off the ice. I think there are great friendships I’ve built over the four years, so I’m so happy I got to be part of that and got to meet so many great people. I think some of those friendships will last forever.”
Tomcikova feels the women’s game on the world stage is growing and will play for Slovakia in the World Championships in April at Vermont.
When Canada defeated Slovakia 18-0 in the 2010 Olympics, women’s hockey was questioned as a viable Olympic sport. Slovakia lost to the United States 5-0, Sweden 3-0 and Russia 4-1 at last year’s World Championships.
“I think that’s a huge improvement,” Tomcikova said. “There’s a lot of nations stepping up and the level is evening out. I think Canada and U.S. are way above everyone, but what do you expect when you have that many players playing and you have so many players to choose from? We have 300 girls playing and that’s what you have in one city. That’s a huge difference.”
International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge has acknowledged women’s hockey is a young sport, but has given countries not named the United States and Canada until 2018 to close the competitive gap.
“If you look at the teams like Sweden and Finland, they’re great and higher than we are, but we played them 3-0 at the World Championships so it’s definitely evening out,” she said. “Switzerland’s up there and we can win against them. There’s a lot of nations like us and I think it’s getting a lot better.”