When Molly Maclellan tells people she plays hockey, she now has to clarify that her sport occurs on ice.
The former Queen’s women’s hockey player is currently on a yearlong exchange at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland — and she’s suiting up for the school’s co-ed varsity team.
Maclellan played both defence and forward as a walk-on player for the Gaels during the 2012-13 OUA season, and worked as the team’s videographer last year.
One of the biggest changes she had to adapt to in Edinburgh, she said, was hockey’s standing among Scotland’s main sports: rugby, soccer and field hockey.
While ice hockey is less common overseas, she said it’s generally more friendly and social. Each team’s player of the game is given a big case of beer, and trash talk on the ice is limited.
“It’s more fun and relaxed,” Maclellan said. “At the end of the game, everybody shakes hands and everybody cheers for the other team.”
Maclellan’s main reasons for choosing Edinburgh as an exchange destination were the school’s strong science program and the chance to reconnect with her own Scottish roots. Playing on the university’s hockey team was an added bonus.
She found the Edinburgh team through online research, and attended tryouts when she arrived at the school in September. Of the 25 players on the roster, Maclellan and a teammate are the only women.
Queen’s women’s roster is stronger skill-wise in terms of puck movement and stick handling, Maclellan said — but she thinks the Edinburgh men’s sheer speed and strength would prevail head-to-head.
Since hockey isn’t a major sport in Scotland, Maclellan said playing in Edinburgh has some drawbacks.
The Edinburgh Capitals, who compete in the United Kingdom’s top professional ice hockey league, play on the same ice as Maclellan’s team — the Murrayfield Ice Rink, Edinburgh’s only arena.
Maclellan’s team practices once a week: every Wednesday between 11:15 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.. Ice time is limited because of a lack of availability and high rental costs.
The university covers a certain amount of expenses, but the rest is on the players themselves, meaning each player has to contribute £50 a month.
Maclellan and her teammates face off against university teams from Manchester, Sheffield and elsewhere in Scotland and northern England. When playing against other schools, both teams often have to commute out of town to access a rink.
Still, Maclellan said the investment and effort is worth it.
“Playing only once or twice a week made me realize how much I miss hockey and wish I could play more often,” she said.
Playing with men has forced her to adjust to another notable change: the reintroduction of hitting, as body-checking isn’t allowed in women’s hockey.
“Sometimes when we play against teams, I feel like they try not to hit me, because I’m a girl,” she said. “Other times … they go after me more.”
She added that the men on her own team tend to hesitate when facing a female opponent.
“I kind of wish they didn’t feel that way,” she said. “I’d like to get more used to the fact that people will be hitting me.”
Despite this, Maclellan said she’s enjoyed playing on a co-ed team.
“I used to play boys’ hockey when I was younger, and I kind of missed the intensity,” she said. “I’ve been playing girls’ hockey for so long, I got used to not getting hit and not feeling as pressured.”
Overall, Maclellan said her overseas hockey experience has been enjoyable and eye-opening.
The Edinburgh roster consists of players from the U.K., Russia, Singapore, Finland, the U.S. and Canada. Many of Maclellan’s teammates played in house leagues or at an equivalent level for a long time growing up.
“I love getting to play with different people,” she said. “It’s interesting to see how different people play differently.”
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