To many, it might look a lot like hockey. The large sheet of ice, players holding sticks, and fighting for control of a small object with the goal of putting it in the opposing team’s net, which rests on the opposite side of the rink.
But the large sheet of ice more than doubles the size of a regulation hockey rink, the sticks come up to waist rather than chin-level, and that small object is not a black rubber puck, but rather a fluorescent red ball. It’s a sport called bandy, and on Thursday, five Gustavus Adolphus College alumnae will take the ice as members of the United States Women’s National Team, which is competing in the 2016 Women’s World Bandy Championship in Roseville, Minn.
The squad is made up of former NCAA Division I and Division III hockey players and features talent from Gustavus, Princeton University, Cornell University, and the University of Maine among others. Gusties on the team include Kelsey Kennedy ’13, Jenna Christensen ’13, Mollie Carroll ’12, Meagan Wanecke ’13, and Maddie Bergh ’14, all of whom played hockey at Gustavus. For most on the team, bandy is a way to continue competition on the ice after their collegiate careers came to a close.
“Gustavus does such a good job of cultivating a curiosity in its students to participate in different activities,” said Kennedy. “We joke during practice that Gusties are the ones that do it all. That’s what we’re known for. I was excited about the opportunity to take on another activity and I think that’s sort of the liberal arts attitude – in this instance, having skills that apply to hockey, trying to find another way to keep using or build on them, and not have this new sport be intimidating.”
Despite the hockey talent on the squad, including the likes of former Ms. Hockey and current USA Hockey player Allie Thunstrom, Maine captain Amy Stech, and Cornell captain Kelly McGinty, the United States enters this weekend’s tournament as an underdog, with European squads Sweden and Russia considered the favorites. “Bandy is very, very big in Europe,” said Team USA defender Briana Carlson. “So while we’re consistently improving, we’re certainly an underdog and are working hard to make more of a name for ourselves as we represent the U.S.”
Making a name for bandy in the United States is one of the primary challenges the team faces as it laces up its skates for this weekend’s tournament. Recently, the American Bandy Association (ABA) submitted an application to the United States Olympic Committee for national recognition as a sport, which is a vital step towards making a bid to the International Olympic Committee for inclusion in the 2022 Winter Olympic Games.
“This year’s tournament is a big opportunity for bandy to further its exposure,” said Kennedy. “While we’re hosting all of the same teams that played in the World Championships in Finland in 2014, we’re also welcoming China, which brings a whole new region of the world into the mix and we’re really excited about that.”
The women’s team isn’t the only bandy squad that has developed a Gustie contingent. The United States Men’s National Team also features several Gustavus alumni, including David Martinson ’10, Scott Arundel ‘08, and Wyatt Wenzel ’14. Chris Middlebrook ’79 and Chris Halden ’78, both Hall of Fame bandy players, helped coach the team to a seventh place finish in its pool during this month’s Men’s World Championship in Russia. In addition, Kevin Bowen ’83 is the head of the U.S. bandy referees and has officiated 18 world championships, including tournaments in Russia, Sweden, Finland, Norway, Hungary, and Kazakhstan.
While playing in the world championships, Martinson described his favorite experience as the opportunity to play the Russians, comparing it to “a men’s league hockey team from Minneapolis playing against [Washington Capitals star] Alex Ovechkin and the Russian national team.”
Martinson and Kennedy both appreciate how bandy has given them the opportunity to meet and interact with individuals from all over the world.
“It was really interesting to meet Russians and competitors from other countries,” said Martinson. “International relations between the United States and Russia might not be at their best right now, but we found everyone we met to be friendly and welcoming. Despite the stuff that goes on worldwide at a macro level, most people still have a lot in common no matter where they are from.”
Kennedy agrees, saying that while she wasn’t looking for another extracurricular to add to her plate, the relationships she built while at Gustavus have helped expand her network worldwide. Kennedy also says the skills she learned at Gustavus have helped her stay focused and enjoy her experience on the national team.
“Gusties like to take on many things and stay fulfilled in a lot of different areas of life at the same time,” said Kennedy. “That’s something that has stayed with all of us since our time on campus.”
The United States Women’s National Team takes on China in its first round matchup of the world championships on Thursday at 8 a.m. For more information on USA Bandy or this weekend’s tournament, please see the following links:
Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin