Skating across the pond

Hockey becomes a different game for former Gael on exchange

Former women’s hockey player Molly Maclellan played for the University of Edinburgh hockey team while on exchange this year.
Former women’s hockey player Molly Maclellan played for the University of Edinburgh hockey team while on exchange this year.

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.”

European at home on Canadian court

While Molly Maclellan plays a Canadian game overseas, one prominent Gael has brought European flavour to Queen’s.

Ivo Dramov — a libero on the men’s volleyball team — has made his mark in CIS volleyball three years after leaving his native Bulgaria.

The international Gael was recently named the OUA and CIS Libero of the Year after posting 3.37 digs per set and 239 total digs over the regular season. His average digs tally was higher than any other player in the country.

Dramov told the Journal via email that the awards are “a great honor.”

“I have won many awards before but these two are very special to me,” he said. “Canada has been a new experience and challenge for me.”

The OUA East All-Star wanted to come to North America for school from a young age.

“It [is] much more prestigious than most university degrees in Europe,” he said.

Head coach Brenda Willis communicated with Dramov while he was deciding on schools. She provided information on the Commerce program, Queen’s volleyball and the CIS volleyball landscape in general.

“I got accepted into Queen’s and the promising young volleyball team coupled with one of the top business programs was something I couldn’t say no to,” he said.

Coming to Canada was a different experience on the court. Volleyball isn’t considered a major sport on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

Bulgaria, on the other hand, is one of the top volleyball countries in the world, with their national men’s team currently sitting ninth in international rankings.

“Bulgaria has a long tradition of great national teams and players,” Dramov said, “as a lot of the national team players are professional players in the top European leagues.”

Growing up in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, Dramov was first named to his country’s national junior team at age 15. He traveled with the team to the Youth World Championships in 2011, where Bulgaria finished sixth and Dramov recorded the third-most digs per set.

He said the world tournament was “the highlight of my volleyball career so far.”

Another highlight happened over Christmas break in 2013, when the Gaels men’s team traveled to Bulgaria for an exhibition tournament.

Dramov was able to introduce his Canadian teammates and coaches to his friends and family in his native land. The trip was facilitated by Dramov’s father, who planned a series of friendly matches with Bulgarian pro and development teams.

Bulgarian fans packed the stands during games and the Canadians spent their free time visiting historical sites and interacting with local players at social events.

“One of the best moments in my life as I got to experience the best of both worlds,” Dramov said.“What made the trip really special to me was that all the players and coaches enjoyed it a lot.”

— Brent Moore

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