Hockey is a small world. Any time I ask my dad where he knows a person from, his answer is always the same: "he's been in my Tuesday night pick-up group for the last 20 years!" Even during my first week here in Austria, one of the women from the KAC-Damen team asked when I graduated from Liberty University because she practiced with them once as a possible recruit. I have a similar connection to another player in the EWHL, Alicia Williams. We both played in the American Collegiate Hockey League (ACHA) for our collegiate careers, met at the Buffalo Beauts free agency camp two summers ago and now play in the same league once again. Since a secondary goal of this blog is to share perspectives from other imports around the world, I'm delighted to present my first interview with a fellow import. You'll see my questions in bold, Alicia's answers in italics, then some of my own context.
This interview was conducted via text and the post has been approved by Alicia Williams.
Import Insider: Alicia Williams
Q: Tell me about how you started on this journey!
AW: I played 4 years at Lindenwood [University-Belleville]. My goal after school was to play in Germany, due to our season being cut short to Covid. The opportunity to keep working towards that goal came with playing for Jason White ("Whitey") at Midland University where I could also study for my masters. I had a connection that led me to the DFEL and the success I generated with Midland led me to ESC Planegg in Munich, Germany.
Williams played one season with ESC Planegg and is in her second season with Aisulu, located in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Q: Did you expect to keep playing for this many seasons when you first started?
AW: I didn’t really know and still don’t really know how long I will play for. I joined hockey at 13 after quitting figure skating which I spent my entire youth doing, so I have always had in mind that I’m making up for the time where I could have been playing hockey.
The biggest information barrier I found when looking at leagues overseas or even when comparing ACHA to D1 hockey was determining the level of play. Since I started taking hockey and fitness seriously much later in life, I had no idea where I stood comparatively to other players. It was a challenge to decipher which league would be the best fit for me just by watching games, so I was curious to hear what another import with a similar late start had to say.
Q: You also played in the ACHA, how would you compare and contrast the leagues? (Level, commitment, culture etc.) What about the German league?
AW: This is tough because women’s hockey [in Europe] isn’t at the level of the US or Canada. I think that as an import you are expected to bring a level of expertise to your team, and are expected to know the game well, and that naturally helps develop those around you.
Looking at the structure of women's hockey development in other countries could be an entire story on its own, but a key element of the EWHL (possibly other leagues but I can't speak on that with my current knowledge) is it is strongly development-focused. There is usually a large group of younger players that have aged out of boys' teams and are on the youth national team track, as well as all the current U20 and senior level players who need a league to continue training for world competitions. So, the talent and competitive level is good, but a primary difference is level of financial investment.
Moving on, I wanted to learn more about how Aisulu Almaty runs specifically because Kazakhstan is drastically further away than any other team in our league. I figured it must be unique!
Q: Explain in more detail how it works with your team specifically and what an average week might look like for you?
AW: I play for Aisulu Almaty in both the EWHL and the Kazakh League. I moved to Germany three years ago and have been living in Munich since. My team goes on “tours” as we are an Asian-based team, we play about 12-14 games in a tour where we base in a central location in Judenberg, Austria. No week looks the same, depending on where we’re playing, sometimes I’m in Munich for two days, sometimes I’m in Budapest for seven. Most weeks, we are traveling from Judenberg to play teams around the area and further away like Zurich, Budapest, or Bolzano.
To finish out the interview I asked some questions to get a big-picture take on her experience overseas these last two and half years.
Q: What was the most difficult part about playing overseas in your first season and what was your favorite?
AW: The most difficult part was injuring my ankle, [but this] led me to overcome one of the most challenging times and led me in more of the direction I want to go, as far as mental development and the role this plays in athletics. My favorite parts were moving across the world with my best friend Katie, meeting my girlfriend Anna, getting to know my current and former teammates from Germany and Kazakhstan, and getting the opportunity to help develop/coach children in Germany.
Q: Favorite team or personal travel story?
AW: I don’t have a favorite memory, but I can say each team I’ve played for is a highlight; LUB with the competitive edge and the family we created there, Midland for getting a chance to be coached by Whitey, while overcoming obstacles and finding a connection with the team to bring the team to the Semis at nationals. Germany for all the adversity I personally overcame and the people I met there, and Aisulu also for the people and the always fighting mentality we bring to each game. My life is a travel story, and I have many personal stories that have brought me all around the world and I’m grateful for everyone of them.
Q: Anything else you want to say! Maybe words of wisdom to curious players?
AW: Do it.
There you have it, folks! A big thank you to Alicia for being the first willing participant for these interviews. I hope to make this a reoccurring post and if you'd like to ask Alicia any more questions, click here for her Instagram!