SCSU senior Olympian has played forward, defense, even goalie in her playing career
Olympian Klára Hymlárová's versatility has helped the Huskies get ranked for the first time since 2009
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Growing up in Opava, Czech Republic, Klára Hymlárová played boys hockey for nearly all of her competitive years.
She played forward for a good chunk of her career, but that all changed with an injury to one of her teammates.
"I started as a forward for maybe three years. We had (a) new coach and we really didn't have (players to play) defense," Hymlárová said. "He asked if there was anyone who likes to try. I raised my hand and thought that it was going to be maybe one or two practices.
"But I played defense for like six years after that. I really don't care if I play forward or defense. It's kind of different, but whatever the coach says where I'm going, I'm just going to go there."
When a teammate on the St. Cloud State women's hockey team recently went down with an injury in a game, Hymlárová ended up playing the rest of the game on defense. She also plays defense on one of the Huskies' power-play units.
St. Cloud State is 10th in NCAA Division I on the power play (24.1%) and Hymlárová also sees time on the penalty kill, which is ranked seventh (89.5%) going into this weekend's WCHA series against the University of Minnesota.
The 14th-ranked Huskies (6-8 WCHA, 11-8 overall) play a home-and-home series with No. 4/6 Minnesota (11-1-2, 12-3-2). The teams play at 6 p.m. Friday (B1G+) at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis and at 3 p.m. Saturday (FOX 9+) at the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center in St. Cloud.
Hymlárová goes into the game with a career-best 12 goals, which is tied for 10th in Division I. Her previous best season for goal scoring was when she had eight as a freshman in 2019-20.
First hat trick
She is coming off scoring her first collegiate hat trick in a game Dec. 3 against St. Thomas.
"The second period was crazy," she said. "We were tied (1-1), then we were losing (2-1 and 3-1). So it was crazy. We scored two power-play goals and we've been working on it the whole season. I'm just glad that it works and we can deliver some goals on the power play. It's very important to score goals on special teams."
Hymlárová leads the Huskies with five power-play goals. This is one season after SCSU converted on 10.1% on the power play. Having Hymlárová around more is one of the reasons for the improvement.
Last season, she suffered a knee injury playing for Czechia in the world championships in September. Then she missed the first two weeks of November because she was helping Czechia qualify for the Olympics.
She missed the month of January because she was playing in the Olympics.
"Last year, I spent a lot of time in planes," Hymlárová said. "It was crazy and I hope that's not going to happen again because it was very tough, mentally and physically."
The Olympic experience
But the experience of playing in the Olympics was special, even though Czechia lost to the United States in the quarterfinals.
"I think it was the opening ceremony when it hit me like, 'OK, we're here — it's real,'" she said. "I had just seen the (ceremony) on TV and you just see when they are walking. Bit it was interesting because we had to wait because it's alphabetical, so we had to wait before we could go. It was interesting to see how it works ... it was fun. I just enjoyed it."
Playing for her country is something that she has a difficult time putting into words.
"I was just proud to be there representing my country, my parents, my friends, whoever coached me ... I don't know how to describe it," she said. "I was just proud to be there."
How she got to St. Cloud State
Hymlárová's journey to St. Cloud State is an interesting one. She was playing for an Under-18 boys team in Opava in 2017-18 when she decided she wanted to play college hockey.
She had been playing on the national women's team since 2014, but had not shown much interest in college hockey.
"I didn't want to go to US to play for college because I always wanted to go pro and have so much money when I was young. I know it's dumb, but it started pretty late and the options were not that bright for me," Hymlárová said. "But I emailed schools."
She did so with the help of USA Sport & Study, a development agency that helps Czech athletes find U.S. colleges.
After she picked SCSU, because Hymlárová was not confident in her English, she studied and played one season for the Ontario Hockey Academy in Cornwall.
"I was kind of scared that it was going to be tough for me," she said of why she put of going to college for a year. "I graduated (high school) in Czech and then I took a post-grad year in Canada to learn English and (be away) from my family, get used to my new life (overseas). I figured out how to live by myself."
That does not mean it was easy.
"The first month was tough because I was not talking at all," she said with a laugh. "I understood when they were talking to me. But I was not able to say anything.
"After that, I just got used to it and if I say something dumb, they're just going to laugh at me. I feel like that now, but whatever. (English), it's my second language."
Her time in net
She has earned WCHA All-Academic honors each of the last two seasons and is a double major in marketing and management. She plans to return for a fifth season and has enjoyed playing for Brian Idalski, who took over as the team's coach this season.
"For me, when I know I can trust a coach ... I've had so many coaches where I've had trust issues with them in my career before," she said of Idalski, who has already led the team to the most wins it has had in a season since 2015-16. "For me to be able to trust him, I think that's the most important — that I know that I can trust him."
As mentioned, Idalski trusts Hymlárová at either forward or defense. Oh, and by the way, she's also played goalie in her career. It was only one game, but it was memorable.
"I was helping with the women's team in Opava and they had some problems where their goalies got hurt or had to work," she said. "So they needed a goalie for a game.
"I said, 'I guess I can do it.' I was practicing with them for a whole week as a goalie and then we had a game. it was fun. It was something different. But one game was enough for me."
"When you're goalie, it's so weird because when they score — there's no one else behind you to help you," said Hymlárová, who had an .893 save percentage in a 3-2 loss. "We had those Christmas practices where we change (positions) with the goalie. I was always in the net because I like to catch pucks. But wearing the gear is so weird. I had to have help (because) I wasn't able to do it myself."