By Tori Wittenbrock
GREEN BAY — Anna Byczek is approaching the end of her hockey-playing days, but not before finishing up her season as a goalie with the Ice Bears with a stellar performance.
Byczek has worked long and hard — for the vast majority of her life — to perfect her skills on the ice.
“I have been skating since I was three years old, but transferred from figure skating to hockey around eight years old. I decided I wanted to switch when my neighbors put in an ice rink next door one winter, and we played hockey almost every day that we could,” said Byczek.
Throughout all her years of playing hockey, Byczek said that one of the most important experiences she had is the relationships she has gained from the sport.
“My favorite part about playing hockey is the relationships I have built over the years. I have played for many different teams at all levels and have made so many friends and learned from some great coaches,” said Byczek.
“When my family first moved here, I had to build completely new relationships and didn’t know a single person. Everyone on the Ice bears was so welcoming to me and the coaching staff was amazing. I made a lot of great friends this past year.”
Although Byczek has been playing hockey for years, she said that it still comes as a shock to some people when they learn she plays such a male-dominated sport.
“Many people are pretty shocked when I tell them I play hockey. When I played boys last year, many people wouldn’t even realize I was a female at first,” said Byczek.
Because her involvement in hockey has been so competitive, Byczek has dedicated all of her athletic attention to it as her sole sport, although she has previous experience running track as well.
This past season was Byczek’s final with the Ice Bears. The eighteen-year-old recently graduated from Bay Port high school, and said she is ready to move forward with her life.
“I have decided that I want to focus on my degree and career, so I will not be playing in college, unfortunately,” said Byczek. Her plans are to attend Northern Michigan University in the fall, pursuing a degree in Accounting.
However, Byczek still has plans to continue to be involved in the hockey community.
“I am looking forward to being able to teach the skills that I have learned throughout the years to other players,” said Byczek of her plans to impart her knowledge and experience of the sport onto others.
“I plan to always stay on the ice as much as I can. I want to start coaching and working with some younger skaters — especially girls. I think it’s important for younger girls that play hockey to also have female coaches to learn from and look up to.”
Byczek has learned a lot of important lessons throughout her time on the rink. Despite never having any physical injuries, she said she has learned the importance of overcoming mental slumps.
“I am fortunate that I have never gotten any injuries. At times though I have had confidence issues on the ice. It is hard to get through those bumps, but as years passed I feel I got more comfortable and confident in myself.”
This season, the Ice Bears finished their regular season with a record of 20-3-0 and an overall record of 24-3-0 after going undefeated in the state tournament.
Byczek was a large part of this season’s performance with a .955 save percentage. Byczek allowed just 20 goals on the season, saving 420 of the 440 shots on goal that she faced. She had 12 shutouts on the season, one of which came in the state tournament. Byczek totaled 1,364 minutes on the ice this season in 24 games played.
Byczek also received the honor of being named Girl Hockey Player of the Year as a part of the Northeast Wisconsin High School Sports Awards.
“It means a lot to be named female player of the year. It’s a great accomplishment for me and I feel it is a reflection of the work the Ice Bears put in this season. I never could have gotten this title without my teammates and all of the coaches I worked with this year,” said Byczek.
Byczek’s coach, Joe Gerarden, also had a lot to say about how well-deserved this award was, given her work ethic and innate talent.
“It was an absolute pleasure coaching Anna this season. Her consistent work ethic and ability really helped with our team’s success,” said Gerarden. “Off the ice she was a scholar athlete, worked with our youth and has great leadership qualities.”
Outside of her athletic talent, Gerarden also spoke positively about her presence as a person.
“She always has a calm presence and stays humble. The award is well-deserved and we couldn’t be more proud of her representation of the Ice Bears,” said Gerarden.