Red Deer’s Abby Thiessen is keeping the hockey dream alive.
The 22-year-old defenceman recently signed a one-year contract to play with Leksands IF, in the 10-team professional Swedish Women’s Hockey League (SDHL).
The Red Deer product said after her final season of NCAA Division I hockey at St. Cloud State University, she was determined to keep playing. After talking to a few former teammates and coach from Sweden, she knew this was a great opportunity.
“I know some of the girls that have been in the league the last couple of years and I’ve heard all good things. It’s one of the best leagues you can play in after college around the world. I’m really excited about that,” she said.
“You get to see a whole new side of the talent. I’ve heard it’s a really good, competitive league and that’s what I was looking for… I’m not really ready to give up the competitiveness yet. I think it will be a really good experience and kinda neat to play against the best of the best over there as well.”
She said there were offers from other teams across the league, but noted it was the small-town feel of Leksand and its hockey-centric community was a huge selling factor.
It reminded her of Grand Forks, North Dakota, where she played one season of NCAA Division I hockey with the University of North Dakota.
“Leksand also has a really nice rink and good facilities which is always nice to make it your home,” added Thiessen, who will get paid a small monthly salary, plus receive room and board to play for Leksand.
“I talked to the coach as well and he explained what they were trying to do as a club and I liked what he had to say and thought it was the best fit for me.”
The SDHL, established in 2007 is a 10-team league with franchises spread out across the country. They play 36 games a year, plus playoff rounds. Several past and present Olympic and world champions have played in the league.
Last year, the SDHL reached a TV deal to broadcast games on Swedish television, a deal that reportedly will show more than 200 elite women’s hockey games each year. They are the only women’s professional hockey league with such a deal.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the SDHL is on track to start on Sept. 12, when Thiessen and Leksand take on Brynas. The regular season wraps up in Feb. before the playoffs get underway.
Throughout the year, there will be a few season breaks, as most players join their national teams for tournaments.
Thiessen, who has never been to Europe, said she’s excited to use that time to do some traveling.
She plans on heading to Sweden some time in early August, to get set up before the season starts.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet. I’m sure it will soon,” she said.
She’s also had to try and brush up on her Swedish downloading an app to work on it but confessed she isn’t the most language inclined person.
“It’s a little harder than I thought, I don’t have any other language abilities,” she said with a laugh.
Her path to the NCAA, which started at the University of North Dakota and unexpectedly lead to three years with the Huskies in Minnesota, has been a dream since she was a young hockey player.
Not only does she hope that inspires kids from Red Deer to chase their hockey dream, but she also hopes this latest step encourages players to think outside the box when it comes to their hockey future.
“I hope to kinda show and highlight the different paths you can take. I think that’s something I benefited from,” she said.
“I hope I can shed some light on it. If you want to do it, there are these options out there. You can do it. Making it known that these options are out there to girls, especially female hockey players.”