“In our memory she always will be Eline with a smile, a good heart for everybody and a great goalie for our team."
The European women’s Para ice hockey team and global women’s Para ice hockey community is mourning the loss of Dutch goaltender Eline van der Gaag, who passed away peacefully on Sunday (19 February).
As a licensed player with World Para Ice Hockey, van der Gaag was at the forefront of the development of the women’s game. She played at the International Women’s Cup in Brampton, Ontario, Canada, in 2014 for Team Europe – the first competition sanctioned by World Para Ice Hockey.
Fellow player Irtje van der Linden was one of her closest friends.
“Eline was a beautiful, sweet loving person. She was married to Fred, the love of her life, and blessed with two wonderful boys, Nick and Don,” van der Linden said. “She never complained, and took life as it came along, with a kind word, a smile and a tear for those who needed it, always with compassion.”
Van der Gaag joined the team in 2012, representing the Netherlands in the mixed-nation group, immediately becoming a crucial player. While she started as an outskater, after a tournament in Philadelphia, USA, she took on the role of goaltender. She trained hard in the position, and by the time the team went to Brampton in 2014, she had made the role her own.
When she became ill and unable to travel, she left a huge gap, not just between the posts, but in the heart of the team. Caroline Bonner, team captain, remembers the things that made van der Gaag an inspiration.
“Passionate, loving, strong and being a fighter – they were big themes for her. But really she loved this team and all the players so, so much, it really did fill her with joy to be with us and to hear from us.”
Van der Gaag’s friendship and influence on the ice was not limited just to Europe.
She was also well loved and respected by Para ice hockey players across the world. Peggy Assinck of the Canadian women’s team had an especially close friendship with her.
“Eline was an amazing athlete and friend. We met in 2008 in the USA during a women’s camp and she approached me recognising that my last name was Dutch.
“I shared with her that my dad was Dutch and we became fast friends keeping in touch over social media over the next many years. At the next camp, she brought me an entire bag of stroopwafel and we shared them late one night while our respective teams had gone to bed.
“More recently, I was in the Netherlands playing floorball a few years back and she came to watch our tournament [supporting us and the Dutch team] and catching up! Eline struck me as an incredible and strong women when I first met her, and as I got to know her better, it also became apparent that her family and her involvement in sports were so important to her.
“I am so happy to have met her and have had such an amazing female role model in my life from another continent.”
As a mark of respect, van der Gaag’s jersey number – #1 – will be retired by the European women’s team.
There is no doubt she will be greatly missed, but she will always be remembered by the Para ice hockey community as an athlete, a fighter, and a friend.
In the words of van der Linden:
“In our memory she always will be Eline with a smile, a good heart for everybody and a great goalie for our team. Her favourite quote about our team was ‘we are not a team, we are family.’ She will be missed.”