Nikola Holmes is a bit of a paradox.
While many of her foreign-born competitors are making their way to Canada and the United States to play for university and college or competitive amateur women’s teams, she’s doing just the opposite.
The Los Angeles-born left wing has made Berlin, Germany her home for the past three years and currently plays for the German women’s national team.
Holmes was eligible for the team after playing two years of competitive hockey in Germany, something she was allowed to do because she has dual citizenship, thanks to her German mother.
How Holmes ended up over in Europe is a little more complicated.
“At Princeton, I was trying to decide the next step in my life and I was thinking, ‘God, I don’t know if I really want to give up hockey, and I don’t really know if I want to get really serious in the working world,’” said Holmes about the choices she had to make during her senior year of college. “I learned from my sister (former US U-22 player Annamarie Holmes) that it’s possible for me to play for Germany and continue playing at a highly competitive level.”
Most people in her situation would have tried to crack the American roster or play for a competitive North American team. But, that didn’t fit into Holmes’s plans.
“I needed somehow to find a way to stand on my own two legs, and I just didn’t see it as a possibility, or an easy way, in the US,” said Holmes, who now works for a sporting goods merchandising company in Berlin. “I have the luck that I can play on a club team and in high-level competition, while at the same time I can work. So I’m not putting my life on hold, which, for women’s sport, is wonderful.”
The 26-year-old learned quickly that European and North American styles, especially the ice sizes, are a bit different.
“It’s a totally different game when it’s a lot smaller. It’s more of a one-on-one,” said the zippy forward.
While her playing style allowed her to adjust to the differences easily, there were still some things she had to learn. Instead of playing a passing game, she had to hold onto the puck a little longer and perfect her stickhandling.
In addition, women’s hockey in Germany doesn’t have the same resources available to it as in North America.
“For women’s hockey in Germany, basically you take a stick and skates and you have nobody to teach you the right way to play,” said Holmes about her adopted homeland. “But, if you figure it out yourself, then you’re lucky, but if you don’t, well, see how far you can get that way.”
Holmes’s teammates have embraced her and say she’s an asset to the team. Leading German scorer Maritta Becker even calls her an idol.
“It makes the team closer,” said Becker. “It’s very important to learn from players like Nikola what it means to have an American attitude to keep working and fighting every day.”
Holmes is hoping to repeat the best hockey experience of her life this tournament. At the 2006 Olympics, she and Becker scored Germany’s two shootout goals against Russia, putting the team in fifth place. But she’s hoping it’s a little easier this time.
“It didn’t have to get that far,” she said with a laugh. “But since we won, it’s OK.”