Forward Part of Slovakian Olympic Team
NEW HAVEN, Conn. -- Former Yale women's ice hockey player Natalie Babony '06 (Whitby, Ont./Holderness School/Telus Lightning) has been selected for the Slovakian Olympic Team and will be a part of the upcoming Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C., starting Feb. 13. Babony is the third player in the history of Yale women's hockey to make an Olympic team roster.
Babony found out about her selection after returning home from the Mountain Cup tournament in Switzerland in December. She had been team MVP in the third game of that tournament, scoring two goals against Austria.
"I returned from Switzerland on December 23rd, and the final rosters for both the men's and women's Olympic Teams weren't going to be announced until December 29th during a press conference in Bratislava, Slovakia," Babony said. "To help ease my mind of the stress and nerves, I decided to take a short trip to NYC to visit friends and my boyfriend's family. It was approximately 6 a.m. Eastern Time on the 29th, and 12 p.m. Slovakia's time, and I was feverishly searching the Slovak Hockey websites for any information as to who was nominated to the final roster. Coincidentally, my phone rings and it's my mom -- she's crying and congratulating me for making the team. I will never forget that day -- I had the most supportive family and friends with me throughout the entire process."
Babony, a native of Whitby, Ont., is a dual citizen of Canada and Slovakia. Her parents (Anton and Olinka) were born in Slovakia, but she, along with her sister, Andrea, and brother, Mark, were born in Toronto. Her parents moved to Canada in their early 20's, leaving behind their families.
"To this day, all of my extended family lives in Slovakia," Babony said. "We grew up speaking Slovak at home and continuing many Slovak traditions, so it is very much a part of who we are/who I am."
Babony's brother and sister both played collegiate hockey, and at one point Andrea and Natalie played for Slovakia as teammates. Logistics prevented Andrea from trying out for the Olympic Team. Babony's father was a minor league player in Slovakia and her godfather, Peter Ihnacak, played for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Babony played for Yale from 2002-2005, totaling 21 goals and 31 assists in 90 career games. She led the team with 12 goals and 29 points in 2002-03, and in 2004-05 she was part of a squad that set the school record for wins (16) and made Yale's first ECAC semifinal appearance. Prior to Yale, she played for the Telus Lightning and attended Holderness School.
After graduating from Yale, Babony moved to Boston, where she lived for two and a half years while working for a medical company (ZOLL Medical).
"During my career at ZOLL, I travelled to Austria to play in the 2009 World Championships -- ZOLL was very supportive of my goals," Babony said. "However during the 2009 summer, I decided to move back home to Toronto to be closer to my family and to better train for my Olympic dreams. Since moving back to Toronto, I have been working for a pharmaceutical company in the Greater Toronto Area. The company is called Servier. Servier has truly been very wonderful and supportive of my Olympic dreams, so I have been very fortunate to have such a great employer."
To prepare for the Olympics, Babony joined two men's hockey teams in the Whitby area and a women's team in the Toronto area. The York University women's hockey coach also allowed her to practice with his team.
"And of course, dry-land training/lifting is a must," Babony said. "I fit these workouts in early in the morning before my work day begins. Fortunately, I am surrounded by a hockey family, including my boyfriend, so I am always receiving the best advice and encouragement on days when I truly feel as though I can't do any more."
Babony's selection to the Slovakian Olympic Team is the culmination of a dream and years of hard work.
"I can definitely say that a lot of preparation and training went in to making Team Slovakia," said Babony. "Once you finish college, it's much more difficult to find that consistency and availability in ice time, especially as a female hockey player. Not to say that a collegiate athlete doesn't face his/her own share of challenges to make a national team -- but essentially, the logistics of figuring out how I was going to approach my preparation for an Olympic team took a lot of effort and energy. I never realized how great it was to be a collegiate athlete until now!"
Slovakia is a team on the rise in International hockey. Last April in Graz, Austria, Babony helped Slovakia win the 2009 IIHF World Women's Championship Division I, which means that in 2011 the Slovakians will be playing in the World Championship "A" pool against traditional hockey powers such as Canada, the U.S. and Sweden. Babony played in all five games of the tournament, and had an assist in the 9-4 win over Norway in the opener.
"In that tournament we beat out Germany, which was very significant because we had also beaten them in November 2008 in the Olympic qualifications," Babony said. "Germany is clearly an excellent team; however, by beating them a second time in Graz, it proved that we, Slovakia, are meant to be where we're heading."
Prior to 2009, Babony had played in two other World Championships with Team Slovakia. Her first was in Slovenia, when she was 16. Her second, in Italy, was during the spring of her sophomore year at Yale. She had three goals and three assists in five games in that tournament. This will be her first Olympic appearance.
"I think that both the World Championship in April 2009 and the Mountain Cup tournament in December 2009 were crucial for me to show that I can make a positive contribution and impact on the team," Babony said. "And I am so very thankful that the coach gave me an opportunity to try out for the Olympic Team."
The eight women's hockey teams in the Olympics are divided up into two groups, A and B, based on seeding. Slovakia is the No. 8 seed and is in the same group as No. 1 Canada, No. 4 Sweden and No. 5 Switzerland. The B group includes No. 2 United States, No. 3 Finland, No. 6 Russia and No. 7 China. Teams play each other team in their group once, and the top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals Feb. 22. The remaining four teams play in the classification round to determine fifth through eighth places Feb. 20 and 22.
Babony and Team Slovakia start play on Saturday, Feb. 13 against Team Canada. Slovakia's men's hockey team, which includes NHL star Marian Hossa, starts play on Feb. 17.
Yale's other two Olympians were part of the 2006 games in Torino, Italy: Helen Resor '09, who played for Team USA, and Denise Soesilo '10, who played for Team Germany. The Bulldogs' other Olympic connection is Ben Smith, the former head coach of the U.S. Women's Olympic Team, who was an assistant coach for the Yale men's hockey team.
Slovakian Olympic Team Schedule
Saturday, Feb. 13, 5 p.m. Vancouver time:
Preliminary Round Group A Game 2, Slovakia vs. Canada
Monday, Feb. 15, 7 p.m. Vancouver time:
Preliminary Round Group A Game 6, Slovakia vs. Sweden
Wednesday, Feb. 17, 7 p.m. Vancouver time:
Preliminary Round Group A Game 10, Slovakia vs. Switzerland
Saturday, Feb. 20, TBA:
Monday, Feb. 22, TBA:
Semifinals, 5-8 Classifications
Thursday, Feb. 25, 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Vancouver
Bronze Medal, Gold Medal Games
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity