Slovakia’s Júlia Matejková is just 16 years old but has already played for their Women’s National Team. Born Mar. 17, 2002, the 5-foot-6, 130-pound center is a crafty playmaker even at such a young age. For that fact alone, she has been called upon to represent Slovakia at the IIHF World Championships at both U18 tournaments and at Division IA. Matejková is a name that you will likely be hearing more of given both her age and her aspirations for her hockey career. Could she someday be the NWHL’s first Slovakian player? Matejková certainly hopes so.
“It is my focus to play in America or Sweden,” she told THW. “Subsequently, I would definitely want to play in the NWHL in adulthood”.
We spent some time getting to know Matejková a bit more. How she got her start in hockey, what she is currently working on to develop her skills, and her experiences on both the international stage and with her club team in Slovakia. It is our hope that you will end up being just as excited about her as we are.
Beginnings of Matejková’s Game in Slovakia
Slovakia has long been well-recognized for the supremely talented players the country has generated for the men’s game. What remains a hidden gem though is the work the country is doing to develop their female players. We are only now just starting to see the strides Slovakia has made with their female programs (more on that shortly), and it is due in part to the development of players like Matejková.
In all actuality, she has not been playing the game for very long.
“I started playing hockey when I was eight years old,” Matejková shared. “I wanted to play ice hockey because I enjoyed it and hockey was a unique sport for me. I loved the speed, the teamwork, the explosiveness. All of this hockey offered.”
Matejková comes from one of the hockey-richest towns in her country – Banská Bystrica. This is the same hometown as well-known NHL players and alums like Michal Handzus, Peter Budaj, Richard Zednik, and Vladimir Orszagh. While Matejková recognizes the talent among the men’s players at home, she wishes that there were more female players to form a women’s team.
“Banská Bystrica is one of the largest towns in Slovakia,” Matejková explained. “Banská Bystrica is a historical city. We have lots of monuments, museums, castles and a wonderful town square. Life in Banská Bystrica is really pleasant. In Banská Bystrica there are a lot opportunities to play hockey. We have one of the top men’s hockey teams in Slovakia. However, we have a lack of girls who would like to play hockey.”
Success on the International Stage
For IIHF Women’s U18 Championship competition, Slovakia has yet to make it to the Top Division where they would face the bigger names like Canada, USA, Russia, Sweden and all the others. However, they are right on the cusp of a breakthrough. More than once they have been ever so close, and there is a sense that Slovakia is rounding a corner.
At the 2017 Women’s U18 Division IA tournament in Budapest, Hungary, the only thing that kept them out of advancement was their head-to-head play against Germany. Both Slovakia and the Germans tied with 12 points apiece and played to records of 4-1. Unfortunately for the Slovakian team their lone loss was a 2-0 decision to the Germans.
Just 14 years old at the time, Matejková recorded her first international goal. It would be a power play tally during Slovakia’s final game of the tournament when they defeated Norway 4-1 and it ended up being the game-winner too.
When the 2018 tournament came around, Slovakia was nearly as close to advancement as they were the year prior. They would end up taking a silver medal with a record of 3-1-0-1. Japan would sweep the tournament with five straight victories. Although injury prevented her from playing in each game of the tournament, Matejková was better than a point-per-game player in 2018. Through three contests she scored a goal and three assists.
Such success at the U18 level vaulted Matejková onto Slovakia’s Women’s National Team later that spring. Just recently having turned 16 years old at that point, she was the youngest player on the squad to suit up in Vaujany, France for the tournament. Though not the performance Slovakia had hoped for – a last place finish and a single victory – Matejková indeed impressed. Despite being the youngest, she generated two goals and an assist in five games to tie for her team’s lead in goals and points.
“I’m really glad to have played in these important events,” Matejková said to THW. “They were my dreams fulfilled. It has given me a lot of experience to my hockey life, but also a lot to my regular life too. I’m so happy that I can be a part of Team Slovakia.”
Developing Her Skills at Home
Back in Slovakia, Matejková plays for HC Banská Bystrica U16. This is in fact a boys hockey club, primarily due to the aforementioned fact of not enough female hockey players in her hometown. Still, Matejková enjoys playing for her team and is proud of how well they have performed in her country.
“I play with boys who are under 16,” she explained. “We play in a nationwide league. We are in the top-14 teams in Slovakia for this competition.”
Matejková appreciates the beauty in setting up a goal as much as scoring one, if not more so. Although she is capable of playing the wing, being able to make passes and create is why she has such an affinity for the center position. Matejková is also big on puck control too.
“Face-offs especially,”Matejková responded when asked what she enjoys most about playing center. “I love when I can make passes and have an overview of the ice. Although I play left wing sometimes, the center is the best position for this.”
Matejková’s two most favorite hockey players are ones who embody the same skills that she strongly values. They are also two of the most talented stars in the NHL today.
“My favorite hockey players are Artemi Panarin and Connor McDavid. Panarin is the type of constructive player who can make unbelievable passes. He has a sharp shot, and great hands and stickhandling. McDavid is very talented, and in my opinion he is the best player on Earth now. He has incredible hockey sense.”
What She Brings to the Table and What She Has Gathered
To think that Matejková is already representing her country alongside grown women is remarkable. It is also important to note that with the 2019 IIHF Women’s U18 World Division IA World Championship just days away from her interview – Jan. 7 to 13 – this 16-year-old could conceivably play in four different U18 tournaments for Slovakia before she has moved out of her teenage years. That is indeed a rare occurrence for IIHF U18 tournaments. With two more kicks at the can, she has the skills to have a legitimate shot at getting Slovakia into the Top Division.
Who will be promoted to the top division of the U18 Women’s Worlds? Japan or Slovakia? Let us know! Deciding game for promotion will be played in 7 hours (17:00 CET, 1am in Japan). Free live stream from the last round in Asiago: https://t.co/ZjserxHPo8
Photos: Basso, Wassagruba pic.twitter.com/hObZ5b62sr
— IIHF (@IIHFHockey) January 14, 2018
Matejková stated that, “I think that my best attributes are my speed, acceleration, stickhandling and finishing passes.”
With her dishing out passes, the goals will indeed follow for Slovakia. With the 2019 Division IA tournament being comprised of Slovakia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Hungary and Denmark, Matejková and her fellow countrywomen have a legitimate shot – and a really good chance at that – of advancing this time around. No matter the outcome though, Matejková knows that even at 16 she is gaining tremendous experience that is preparing her for both a long hockey career and for adulthood.
“I have learned so much (from hockey),” Matejková said warmly. “I have learned self-sacrifice, discipline, commitment, self-esteem and how to work in a team.”