Best friends Laskova, Vanisova determined to make it as Czech players in the PWHL

MONTREAL (AP) — Dominika Laskova remembers waiting for a pass that never landed on her stick.

Laskova was 12 years old taking the ice for the Czech Republic’s under-15 national camp. Her teammate, Tereza Vanisova, was hogging the puck.

“I don’t want to say we didn’t like each other, but Tereza kind of didn’t pass to anybody,” Laskova said from the Verdun Auditorium. “She was kind of selfish on the ice.”

Fifteen years later, the two Czech players are best friends — and sharing more than just a puck.

Laskova and Vanisova are the only Europeans on Montreal’s Professional Women’s Hockey League team, pursuing hockey careers that have led them both to new lives in Canada.

“We are like wife after 20 years of living together,” Laskova said with a laugh.

The two 27-year-olds were drafted together by Montreal and moved close to the team’s primary arena in the city’s Verdun borough. They also shared an apartment as members of the Premier Hockey Federation’s Toronto Six last season.

Vanisova, doing her best to shake the “puck hog” label Laskova tagged her with so many years ago, had a team-leading four assists through four games entering Tuesday’s game against New York. Laskova hadn’t yet found the scoresheet.

Laskova said Vanisova is a “fast” player. Vanisova described Laskova as skilled and smart: “She can see the ice very well.”

Off the ice they find ways to blow off the pressure of playing high-stakes hockey — and keeping homesickness at bay.

“We’re in the same boat, and it’s like, if I have a bad day, she kind of knows what it feels like,” Laskova said. “Just being away from family and like being a European and having a different culture and stuff like that, it’s always nice to have somebody who can understand that.”

Occasional meals of traditional Czech comfort food prepared by Vanisova help to bring some of their homeland closer.

“Tereza loves her kitchen and she doesn’t let me cook, so I’m just bent out,” Laskova said. “I can cook too, but she just doesn’t let me so I just make fun of it and like she’s the mom, I’m the dad of the family. So I just always ask. ‘What time is the dinner? What time should I be ready?’”

And Vanisova adds, no one can make her laugh like Laskova.

“As a roommate, she’s funny. She is something else,” Vanisova said before bursting out in laughter. “She always makes fun of everything. Sometimes I’m like, ‘OK, stop! I’m not in a mood for it.’ But she keeps going.”

Vanisova and Laskova, both world championship bronze medalists for the Czech Republic, played college hockey in the United States.

They’ve experienced professional hockey closer to home by playing in the Czech and Swedish leagues.

But the newly formed PWHL offers them a chance to play at the highest level on a consistent basis, and they’re determined to make it despite having their families six time zones away.

“If I would go back to (Czechia) I would probably quit hockey,” Vanisova said. “And in Europe, Sweden, maybe Finland (could be options), but it’s not the same for sure.”

Laskova adds that playing in North America can help improve European teams on an international stage dominated by Canada and the U.S. for decades.

“You always chase your dreams and this league I think is the top league I have ever played in,” Laskova said. “Playing alongside Team Canada, Team USA players or just playing against them the whole year round is obviously good for us.

“I think for Europeans it’s definitely a good step forward to get closer to the North American teams and win at the international level.”

PLAYING THE HITS

The PWHL’s physical play is grabbing headlines — and players are loving it.

“It’s been quite fun to see,” Montreal captain Marie-Philip Poulin said. “I can guarantee you that across the league we’re enjoying that kind of play.”

The league hopes its rules that allow bodychecking along the boards, as long as there’s a clear intention to play the puck or gain possession, become an integral part of the women’s game.

“It’s the way the game is meant to be played in all of our opinions,” PWHL senior vice president of hockey operations Jayna Hefford said. “I think we’ve just shone a light on the way maybe the women’s game needs to push toward in the way it’s called.

“It’s hard to argue that this hasn’t been some of the best hockey that people have seen.”

OTTAWA FINDS A GROOVE

Coming off a 10-day break, Ottawa blew out Toronto 5-1 for its first win of the season on Saturday. After that statement win, the team is confident in its identity heading into Wednesday’s clash against league-best Minnesota.

“We’re in a great spot,” Ottawa goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer said postgame Saturday. “We’re a very physical team and that’s where we’re best on the ice. (Other teams) don’t really know our identity yet, I think they’re starting to see it.”

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