The first thing you should know about Aneta Tejralová is that she loves blocking shots.
It's one of the reasons why six-year-old Tejralová wanted to become a defender when she started playing hockey. At first, she wanted to play in net, but her parents told her goalie equipment was too expensive.
"I actually like to block the shots and be like a superhero," she said with a smile.
Tejralová's hockey journey began more than 20 years ago in Prague and continues in Ottawa this season. The 27-year-old shutdown defender has signed a one-year contract to play in the Professional Women's Hockey League (PWHL), after being drafted in the seventh round (41st overall) in September.
It will be her second year playing professionally in North America after suiting up for the Boston Pride of the now-shuttered Premier Hockey Federation last season, and following several years of playing professionally in Russia.
The new league, which begins play in January, aims to attract the best talent from across the world. Ottawa may be leading the way in that regard, with more countries represented on its training camp roster than any other PWHL team.
In addition to Tejralová and her Czech teammate Katerina Mrázová, Ottawa has players from Japan (Akane Shiga), Germany (Sandra Abstreiter), and Hungary (Fanni Garát-Gasparics), plus Canadians and Americans.
Good decision to join Ottawa
"To have the international feel that we've got within our group is really special to us," head coach Carla MacLeod said.
Friday was Tejralová's fourth day in Canada and first opportunity to get on the ice with teammates during training camp at TD Place.
Though it's only been a couple of days, and the jet lag hasn't worn off, Tejralová already feels like she made a good decision by coming here. She likes her teammates and her coaches, including MacLeod, who also coaches the Czech women's national team.
"I think Carla is a very good coach and a very good person," Tejralová said. "On the national team, we listen to her and we trust her, what she wants from us. I think that it's going to be good for us in Ottawa because she knows what's important for us."
When her signing was announced, Ottawa general manager Mike Hirshfeld said Tejralová might not be well known in North America, but Ottawa's staff believes she is one of the best defenders in the world.
"She can skate," MacLeod said.
Tejralová speaks with fellow defender Victoria Howran at TD Place on Friday. (Spencer Colby/The Canadian Press)
"She's smart and she can glide on that ice. Her capacity to process the game and move the game with her feet and the puck allows her to compete at the highest level. We've seen that at the world championship and I'm really thrilled she's going to be part of our organization here."
Tejralová credits her twin brother, Petr Tejral, for some of her skating ability. Watching him play is what made Tejralová want to play too. The two played boys' hockey together for years in their country, with Petr watching out for his sister on the ice.
She said Petr, who played professionally in Czechia for several years, is strong technically on his skates, with a good long stride. His sister has often watched him skate, and in a way that only twins can, mirrors what he's doing.
"When I'm skating, I'm actually thinking about him," she said.
Tejralová can bring some offence, too. She played in Sweden's women's hockey league this fall while waiting for the PWHL's season to begin, logging eight points in 13 games with MoDo.
But she believes her biggest strength lies in shutting down other teams.
"From the D zone, I can block a shot and give a pass to the forwards and they can score," she said.
Joined Czech national team at 15
Hirshfeld also cited Tejralová's leadership skills when he signed her. She's been on the Czech national team since she was 15 and recently took over the captaincy, after long-time captain Alena Mills retired from international play.
She's been part of a generation of players who have pushed Czechia to new heights, qualifying for the Olympics in 2022 and most recently, winning back-to-back bronze medals at the world championship.
Tejralová shoots a puck off the post past Switzerland goaltender Andrea Braendli during the bronze-medal game at the women's world hockey championship in April. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)
Winning an Olympic medal is a goal but so, too, is bringing her country up to the level of Canada and the United States, the two nations that have dominated international women's hockey. Czechia now plays in the top division at worlds, meaning they get to face the Canadians and the Americans more often.
It won't hurt that she'll be skating against most of those players regularly now. Her teammates include Emerance Maschmeyer, who has been one of Team Canada's top goalies for several years, American defender Savannah Harmon, and Canadian forwards Emily Clark and Brianne Jenner, to name a few.
"We want to be closer to them and play like they play," she said of the Canadian and American national teams.
Battling for roster spot
Shiga and Garát-Gasparics are in Ottawa as free agent camp invites, trying to secure one of six jobs Hirshfeld has left open on the roster.
A translator was on the ice with Shiga on Friday to help with the language barrier involved in coming to Canada.
"We're going to try to make her as comfortable as she can be so she too can be the best version of herself," said MacLeod, who coached Japan's national team at the 2014 Olympics, before Shiga was on the team.
"But she's a high-end offensive player. She's a threat on the ice. She finds ways to score goals in all games."
Ottawa will return to the ice Sunday. The team's training camp will last about six weeks and includes a trip to Utica, N.Y., next month, when all six PWHL teams will scrimmage against each other.
Hirshfeld plans to have Ottawa's final roster, including 23 players under contract and two reserve players, named by Dec. 9.