West central native Jaycee Gebhard recently signed her second one-year contract in two years with Brynäs IF of the Swedish Women’s Hockey League. The 5’3 forward did not seem to lose one step when she laced them up overseas this past season, finishing top twenty in points for the league, and first on her team in points out of the team’s Canadian players.

She said her biggest hurdle was the initial transition to the European game, though that is something she quickly learned would become one of her biggest strengths.

“The season was great. It took a little to adjust with the way bigger ice, different styles of play and stuff. It went good until I got injured near the end of the season. It was awesome and I developed so much from the beginning.”

The talent featured in the SDHL makes it a contender for the top women’s league in the world. Playing with, let alone producing to the level she did in her rookie season alongside some of the best international women in the world has given her a great amount of confidence headed into next season.

“We had two of the top scorers in the entire league. Watching them and the skills they have, picking their brain and playing with them in practice and stuff was awesome,” said Gebhard, “Europeans, most of them play a different style. What they teach you is all offense. Drills, everything is tailored towards offense, whereas back here it’s kind of more focus on defense first.”

Gebhard couldn’t stress enough how beneficial that change of mindset was to her game, and it was evidenced later on during her rookie season that saw her finish with over a point-per-game.

“For me that was awesome because obviously I like offense a lot more than defense.”

She tried to emulate her European teammates offensive mindset as much as possible once she noticed the uptick in scoring chances. It was a major eye opener for Gebhard to see the focus put on scoring.

“That was cool and obviously some of those girls have insane skill, insane hands, stick-handling and stuff,” explained Gebhard, “Just getting to watch them and practice with them and see what they do. It was a lot of fun to learn off those girls because they play a different style than North Americans do.”

Gebhard talked about the diverse portfolio of Europeans on the roster, as not surprisingly there are only a few other North American players. Experiencing the different lifestyle and customs Europe has to offer is usually one of the draws for North American’s playing off their home continent.

One thing that is definitely big in Europe and not a custom in our sporting-world is the relegation round. In other words, losing teams can face a demotion. Though it wasn’t her team, Gebhard did get to experience the men’s team playing for their spot in the league.

“Our organizations men’s team actually didn't have a great season and had to play in relegation. Thankfully they won, but just experiencing it through them was different. Thinking we may not have a men’s team next year, for us it was definitely different just the way they do it.”

The oddities for Gebhard didn’t stop there as she was charmed by the idea of an international break, where players would return to their home country to practice with their national hockey team about once a month. Another factor in European leagues is the large emphasis placed on playing for your national team. The practices are necessary as yearly competitions do take place, but they will truly come to a heed this year with the 2022 Winter Olympics on the calendar.

“Next season will go a little longer because of the Olympic break. We will probably have 5-6 players that go to the Olympics, so it will be fun to watch them.”

As mentioned Gebhard will be heading into her second pro season on another one-year deal. North Americans tend to sign from year-to-year to help navigate the leagues budgeting rules, and also to keep a player’s options open for moving on. This scenario definitely pertains to Gebhard, as she was selected 6th overall by the NWHL’s Toronto Six franchise. Gebhard’s intentions remain the same as a year ago when it comes to joining the North American league; the competition and intensity level just isn’t where it needs to be for her standards.

“I could have played in the NWHL, but there just isn’t enough hockey. They don’t practice enough for what I would want.”

Gebhard also made mention of the PWHPA, a new organization dedicated to advocating for the promotion of professional women's ice hockey. Whatever goals the PWHPA has would go a long way towards making a pro-career in North America more viable for a player like Gebhard.

Again as mentioned above, playing in places like Sweden does have some perks; especially last year during the pandemic. Every country around the world likely took a different approach to the virus, and Sweden was definitely one of the more relaxed locations. Obviously extra risks were involved with the relaxed rules being seen, but not being forced to live in isolation during her first year as a professional had to have played a big part in building the young forwards confidence.

“Sweden had no restrictions. We were pretty much living in a world without COVID over there,” she said, “We actually ended up getting it right after the semi-finals, so then the final was postponed about a week. That’s about the only disruption our team had.”

Gebhard has spent most of her off-season back in Pittsburgh where she attended Robert Morris University. Her alma mater recently made the decision to cut the men’s and women’s hockey programs, and Gebhard has been busy on the front-lines trying to figure out just why. The dire situation her program is facing is likely to stick on her mind, but Gebhard’s focus will have to change back soon as she prepares to head back to Sweden for her second pro season.