Russian forward Yekaterina Pashkevich (72), a former running back for the now-defunct Manchester Freedom of the U.S. Independent Women's Football League, battles for the puck with Japanese forward Hanae Kubo (21) in a preliminary-round women's hockey game on Tuesday during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Shayba Arena. Russia won, 2-1. (USA TODAY Sports)
From football in Manchester to women's hockey in Sochi, Russian trailblazer has had long career
An eclectic athletic career that began by playing ice hockey with the boys in Moscow, before a switch to field hockey followed by nine seasons competing on the American gridiron as a running back in the United States Independent Women's Football League, Pashkevich has come full circle.
The 41-year-old forward — who spent several years with the Manchester, N.H., Freedom in the USIWFL before the team disbanded after the 2011 season — became the oldest woman to play in an Olympic ice hockey game on Sunday when she skated out onto the Shayba Arena ice to face Germany in their Sochi opener.
"It feels unbelievable, just the emotions, the high," Pashkevich told reporters after Russia's dramatic 4-1 comeback win over the Germans that sent the capacity crowd into a celebration frenzy on Sunday. "We had an awesome first game, a great start for our team. We can be very happy right now.
Russia has never placed higher than fifth at an Olympics but with the Winter Games being staged at the Black Sea resort, the Russian Ice Hockey Federation poured resources into the women's program in an effort to land the team on the podium.
On Tuesday, Russia raised its record at Sochi to 2-0 with a 2-1 victory over Japan.
"They are similar as far as intensity and physicality of the game, but they are very different tactics, techniques," she said of her two sports.
Pashkevich had been retired for nearly seven years when she made the short trip up to Vermont in 2012 to visit with some of her former teammates playing in the world championships.
"At first I thought, 'Oh my God, I'm so old,'" said Pashkevich, known as "Mama Katia" to her teammates.
While Pashkevich has indicated Sochi will mark the end of her ice hockey career she has not closed the door completely on the possibility of reappearing for the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games.