Czechs poised to make a move in women's hockey with Canada's Carla MacLeod

·4 min read

Carla MacLeod spent her July holiday in Maui studying flash cards she'd made of hockey players she was about to coach.

A two-time Olympic gold medallist with Canada's women's hockey team in 2006 and 2010, MacLeod hadn't planned on taking on another coaching gig because she already had one with the University of Calgary Dinos women's team.

But she's behind the bench of Czechia, previously known as the Czech Republic, at the women's world championship in Denmark.

The Czechs went undefeated in their pool of the world's sixth to 10th seeds and take on Finland in Thursday's quarterfinals.

"What makes me most proud is I think we're getting to the point where they believe in themselves," MacLeod told The Canadian Press.

"Results aside, that's something that will impact them not only as a team, but as women moving forward. I think that's the most important piece."

It's not the first international assignment for the 40-year-old Calgarian since the defender retired from the national team in 2010 and entered the coaching ranks.

MacLeod spent three years as an assistant coach for Japan from 2012 to 2014.

Japan both qualified for the Olympic Games in 2014 for the first time since it was the host team in 1998, and gained promotion from the Division 1 world championship to the top tier during MacLeod's tenure.

While MacLeod loved her stint with the Japanese, she hesitated when the Czechs offered her this spring the job of head coach of their women's team.

She knew from her Japanese experience the travel demands an international assignment requires. MacLeod had also just taken over as head coach of the Dinos in 2021.

"There's a lot of people in this scenario I had to make sure I could do right by and I felt the weight of that early," MacLeod explained.

"All of a sudden, the plan I had for the summer was going to shift, but then it was 'OK you dummy, of course you're going to take this opportunity."

Under head coach Tomas Pacina, the Czechs were tied 1-1 with the U.S. after two periods in an Olympic quarterfinal in February.

The Americans scored three goals in the third, but it was a breakthrough effort for the Czechs in their Olympic debut.

Czechia finished seventh and goaltender Klara Peslarova was named to the Olympic all-star team.

When Pacina departed and became European development coach for the Toronto Maple Leafs, Czech women's manager Tereza Sadilova wanted her team to maintain its gain.

"Our program had a huge momentum after the Olympics and we absolutely wanted to build on that," Sadilova said. "I was looking for a strong female lead coach with a championship mentality, somebody who wasn’t afraid to take the extra leap with this team.

"Carla was the perfect match. She is absolutely brilliant. She can be tough too, but boy is she good. Carla is the first female coach in the history of Czech Hockey. That itself is a game changer."

Unbeknownst to her then, MacLeod got a preview of her future team as a TV commentator of the 2021 world championship in Calgary, where the Czechs lost 1-0 to the Finns in a quarterfinal.

"Ironically enough, it was probably just after the Calgary world championship, I was chatting with one of my friends and said 'if I can ever get back into the international game, I'd really love to work with Czechia,'" MacLeod said. "That's what I said out loud, so maybe deep down, it was meant to be.

"You could see the growth and the gains they were making."

The Czechs accommodate both MacLeod and assistant coach Cassea Schols of Edmonton by making English the primary coaching language.

MacLeod also had the benefit of Zoom to get acquainted with the Czech women, which she didn't have with Japan. She said her initial virtual interviews with the Czechs weren't about hockey at all.

"I was just trying to get to know them. Who are you? Those are the buttons you need to learn," she said. "You can't take a team anywhere if they don't trust, or feel connected or feel valued."

Delaney Collins, MacLeod's former Canadian teammate and a three-time world champion, is Hungary's assistant coach in Denmark.

"I think it's important as women we be given these opportunities and be seen as experts," MacLeod said. "There's an investment from other federations here to try and grow and get better and continue to learn.

"When you look at other sports across the board, it's just so common you're going to try and learn from those who seem to do it quite well, like German coaches in bobsled."

"Both of these opportunities, Japan and Czechia, are opportunities I couldn't have dreamt of. I work really hard for these groups because I sincerely want them to do well."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 31, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press