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Tereza Vanisova isn’t one of those hockey players who was naturally gifted.
She was interested in the sport because her older brother, Marek, played it, and she would wind up going to a lot of his games.
When she started playing, she admits she was really bad and struggled. But Marek took his younger sister under his wing.
“We used to play street hockey in sneakers. My hands were really bad on my stick. I had hard hands. But I got better. My brother helped me a lot,” Vanisova said.
Vanisova’s hands eventually acquired a scorer’s touch and enabled her to become a prolific point producer. That led to a scholarship at the University of Maine.
With nine games left in her college career, the native of Strakonice, Czech Republic, is the UMaine career scoring leader with 124 points in 119 games. She also owns the school record for career assists (64) and single-season assists (30 during 2017-2018).
Her 60 goals rank her third in school history, one behind Meagan Arts (2000-2004) and 14 behind all-time leader Karen Droog, who scored 74 from 2000 to 2004.
“She is dangerous,” Merrimack College coach Erin Hamlen said. “She is a dynamic player, so you always have to know where she is on the ice. She’s slippery. She has the ability to get into space that not a lot of players have.”
Vanisova was the Hockey East Co-Rookie of the Year in 2017 and a second-team all-league selection in 2018 when she led the Black Bears to their first-ever Hockey East series win and a berth in the semifinals. Her 46 points that year ranked 11th in the country and sixth in Hockey East.
The 5-foot-7, 135-pound Vanisova acknowledged that she gets plenty of defensive attention from opponents.
“It has gotten harder and harder. Sometimes there will be a player skating with me [even though she doesn’t have the puck],” Vanisova said. “It’s annoying.
“But I just have to ignore it and play my game,” she said.
Opponents who try to take liberties with Vanisova quickly find out that she is not only skilled, but is a gritty, hard-nosed player who doesn’t back down. She has led the Black Bears in penalty minutes every year and has amassed a total of 223 in her career.
“She brings it every single day,” UMaine senior goalie Carly Jackson said. “She never gives up and she certainly takes a beating out there. She is a leader.”
Some of Vanisova’s aggression can be traced to the fact she played on boys teams in the Czech Republic until she was 18. She didn’t start playing on a women’s team until she was 15, then played on both boys and girls teams for three years.
Body checking is not allowed in women’s hockey.
“Some of the guys wouldn’t touch me and others went after me because I was a girl. It was tough but I loved [the contact]. It was such an adrenaline rush,” she said.
Vanisova said her game improved as she moved up to play on more elite boys teams.
The center said she always wanted to play college hockey in the United States, so she went to Canada to attend the Hockey Training Institute in Ontario for a season.
She has played for the Czech Republic national team since she was 13 and has represented her country in several international tournaments. In 2017, she was named the Czech Republic’s Female Hockey Player of the Year.
UMaine was the first college to recruit her so she committed to the program.
“She is our most elite player,” said UMaine head coach Richard Reichenbach. “She has given our program a level of confidence and the ability to come through in certain situations. She helped us win our first Hockey East playoff series and reach the semifinals.”
Junior right wing Michelle Weis has been Vanisova’s linemate for most of her career and said she plays at another level.
“She has always been our best player,” Weis said.
Vanisova leads UMaine in scoring this season with 11 goals and 15 assists in 23 games. She has three game-winning goals.
Being the school’s all-time leading scorer means a lot to her.
“It’s exciting. But it’s not just about me. It’s about the team. I wouldn’t be where I am without the people around me,” Vanisova said.
She has enjoyed her teammates and likes living in Maine, even though it’s colder than the Czech Republic, and there isn’t as much to do.
“But I like nature and stuff and we don’t have much time to go out anyway,” she said.
Vanisova wants to play professional hockey, but she also intends to continue her kinesiology studies next year. Her short-term goal is to help UMaine make a playoff run.
UMaine (10-10-5 overall, 6-8-4 Hockey East) has been up and down this season but is the only team to beat No. 3 Northeastern at Matthews Arena. Vanisova assisted on all three goals in the 3-2 overtime win.
But the Black Bears were also swept at home by Vermont (9-10-6, 6-8-4 HE).
“We have been inconsistent. That has been our main problem. We can beat anyone but we have to be more consistent,” she said.