Born To Be A Keeper – Jennifer Harß
German ice hockey goalie Jennifer Harß is a woman among men. The 32 year old is currently the only female playing in a men’s amateur league.
Overcoming a major injury
I have torn my ACL and MCL during an ice-hockey game when a player crashed into me. I could feel it right away and I knew it was bad. It definitely was my worst injury and a big challenge to come back. You literally start from zero and after surgery you have to learn the basics like walking again. I knew I didn’t want to end my career with a big injury, that’s why I wanted to come back and play hockey again. I had a really good support system, especially my family and boyfriend, around me that helped a lot. You go through a lot of ups and downs during rehab. Sometimes you have a great day and you get super excited, but then the next day might be a bad day. The biggest challenge as an athlete is that you always want to push yourself to the max, but during rehab you really have to listen to your body and accept the fact that on some days you might have to stop in the middle of the workout, because your knee has had enough.
I would tell others athletes to take their time with the rehab process and it doesn’t matter how hard it will get, it will be worth it once you’re back.
An invite to the White House
College hockey in the States is very professional and linking that with a college degree was a great experience. Winning a National Championship in triple overtime was one of my best hockey moments and getting invited to the White House was very special as well. It just shows how popular college sports are in the US and respects all the hard work we’re putting into our sport.
A woman among men
By now a lot of people know that I’m playing on a men’s team, so they are not really surprised, but often it is new for opponents or fans. The reactions vary from “Wow that’s great and very impressive” to “she shouldn’t be playing on a men’s team and why is she playing hockey as a girl anyways”! I think the best way to describe it is that when I am having a great game I am getting way more attention and praise from people, but on the other hand, when I am having a bad game it is the complete opposite and I am getting a lot of negative feedback.
At home, I have my own shower and I can change my clothes in a separate room. When we’re on the road I usually shower first or last. Every team I have been on so far respects me and leaves me alone when I’m in the shower.
Differences and how to grow the women’s game
It is always a transition to switch from men’s to women’s hockey and the other way around. Men are stronger and shoot harder. In women’s hockey bodychecking isn’t allowed, which doesn’t mean at all that it is not physical, because it really is.
When I grew up, I always played on a boy’s team. There are no girls teams in Germany. And specifically, as a goalie, you can compete better with the guys, because it is not so much about strength and body contact, but more about quickness, flexibility, and reaction. I think the women’s league developed a lot over the last few years in Germany and the circumstances (ice time, resources available, sponsors, money, etc.) are improving. However, I still find that the men’s league I am playing in is more professional. To give you a few examples: unfortunately, the girls often have to pay for some of their road trips, equipment, and most of the time there are only a few fans at the games. The Bavarian league is considered an amateur league and everybody (except the imports) has a job, goes to school or college. Most players get a little bit of money to cover their expenses, but nothing like that is offered in the women’s league yet.
I think in order to improve the women’s league every team needs to be under ‘the roof’ of a professional men’s team and benefit from them. This could be a good way to grow the game and make it more popular. You see it more often happen around the world (especially in the US and Canada) that women teams get the support and then more people do come to the games. It is important that more and more people are watching the games in order to make it more attractive because that will also help with sponsors.
How to get into a men’s team
I remember the first time I played on a men’s team was when I was 16 years old and the senior team (EV Füssen- Oberliga 3rd highest league in Germany) needed a goalie. I traveled with the team as a back- up goalie and didn’t expect to play at all. However, by the end of the game, we were leading, so the coach put me in for the last two minutes. I was super nervous, but it was great and that’s how it all kind of started. From then on you talk to the coach or a manager to negotiate a contract. I never had an agent, I always talked to the teams myself. Growing up it was never a dream (like the Olympics) to play on a men’s team, but after I played my first few minutes on a men’s team, I had the goal to actually be on the team and not just when one of the goalies got injured.
I think good preparation is key including food, sleep, training, mental training, etc. The better you are prepared, the less you have to be nervous. However, if I do get nervous before a game, I like doing breathing exercises to calm me down.
Of course, if you do a mistake as a player there is always the goalie who can maybe fix it, but as a goalie, if you do a mistake it is a goal. That’s why the mental part is very important for a goalie and visualization training can be very helpful to work on your right technique.
Different style of play?
No, I do not change anything, because by the end of the day my job stays the same. Stop pucks.
It’s not a girl thing
You know what? I’ve been told that a lot and I still hear it every now and then, but when I was growing up, I also played tennis, soccer, and skied. Some of those options may have been considered more suitable for a girl, but I always enjoyed hockey the most. Always stick to what you enjoy most and is fun for you. If somebody tells you, you can’t do it, see it as a motivation and push harder, because that will only make you stronger.
- Born: 14. July 1987 Füssen, Germany
- Team: EHC Königsbrunn
- League: Bavarian League (4th devision)
- 2 times Olympian (Torino 2006/Sochi 2014)
- NCAA Champion 2010
- WCHA’s All Tournament Team 2010