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Bemidji State goalie Zuzana Tomcikova returned from the Vancouver Olympics Wednesday and was back with the BSU women's team for Thursday's practice at John Glas Fieldhouse. Pioneer Photo/Eric Stromgren

Tomcikova back as BSU goalie after playing for Slovakian women's hockey team

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Zuzana Tomcikova was back in net at Bemidji State women's hockey practice Thursday afternoon at John Glas Fieldhouse after a memorable, albeit tough run as the goalie for the Slovakian women's hockey team at the Vancouver Olympics.

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She was missed judging by the way her teammates welcomed her back to Bemidji.

"I got so many hugs that I couldn't even count them all," Tomcikova said. "I think they were really happy to see me back and I'm happy to see them."

The Slovakians finished the Olympics winless in eighth place among eight teams. The pool play games were especially tough for the Slovaks as they absorbed four losses by a combined score of 29-4, including an Olympic women's hockey record 18-0 loss to gold-medal winner Canada in the opening game.

Tomcikova made several acrobatic saves in a spectacular performance against the Canadians that gained her attention from media outlets across the world. She faced 67 shots in that game and stopped 49 shots in front of 18,000 raucous fans at Canada Hockey Place and a live cable television audience.

"It was a lot of fun playing in that game against Canada and I know their fans appreciated us because they cheered for them and they also cheered for us too," Tomcikova said.

Tomcikova and the Slovakians skated off the ice to a standing ovation after that game as a fan favorite but the results did not get much better on the ice for the outmatched Slovakian skaters. In classification play, the Slovakians lost 4-2 to Russia and ended play with a 3-1 loss to China on Monday.

The Slovakians lost the five games at the Olympics by a combined score of 36-7 and Tomcikova stopped 163 of a whopping 199 shots.

Those deficits endured by Slovakia and the other teams at the hands of Canada and the United States drew sharp criticism. Some experts questioned the legitimacy of women's hockey as an Olympic sport and pushed the idea of a mercy rule in Olympic play.

Tomcikova brushed those assertions aside in stride as the focal point for those questions and had pride in her country's developing team.

"For Slovakia, we had never played at the Olympic level and there were some reporters that were not so nice out there," Tomcikova said. "I hoped that some of those stupid questions they wouldn't use."

The North American countries are further along in progression of the women's game and have a larger pool to select players from. Slovakia has around 250 registered women's hockey players where the United States has numbers in the thousands.

"I really hope that now that we're at the Olympics, people at home are going to watch women's hockey and a lot of young girls are going to start, and we're going to be an inspiration for them," Tomcikova said in a press conference after the Canada game in a quote that appeared in several publications.

The underdog Slovaks qualified for their first Olympics with upset wins over Germany and Kazakhstan in the 2008 qualifying tournament. The Slovaks were just unable to replicate the same magic in Vancouver despite challenging Sweden, China and Switzerland.

"It was definitely a great experience for us," Tomcikova said. "We would have liked to get a win and we were so close to getting that win. But it just didn't happen."

Tomcikova had support from her family in the stands as well as her billet family from her Caronport High School days in Regina, Saskatchewan. She said the most memorable moment for her was the opening day at the games.

"Everything was just great and the highlight for me was the Opening Ceremonies and being able to walk out in front of everybody," Tomcikova said.

"I always wanted that to happen."

Up next for Tomcikova is this weekend's first-round Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoff series with Bemidji State on the road to face St. Cloud State. She will be back in net trying to help the Beavers advance to their first WCHA Final Face-Off tournament in program history.

"It's definitely nice to be back and I hope we can go out and get a win tomorrow," Tomcikova said.

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