MANNHEIM, Germany — It’s 5 p.m. in Mannheim, and there’s a few hours until the streets of the usually bustling German city are deserted.
Nights are quiet, but Alex Woken doesn’t know any different.
Woken, from Fargo, is playing her first professional hockey season overseas for the Mad Dogs Mannheim. The Mad Dogs play in the Frauen-Bundesliga, the top women's pro league in Germany.
She’s back to at-home workouts because gyms have been closed for weeks. Germany went into partial lockdown in November and moved to a hard lockdown last month, which was extended until Jan. 31.
The stricter restrictions imposed an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. nighttime curfew in her team’s home city of Mannheim, located an hour south of Frankfurt. Nonessential shops, restaurants, bars, tourist sites and schools are closed until Jan. 31, but Woken can still do what she went to Europe for — play professional hockey.
Woken, a right-winger, played college hockey for the University of Minnesota. She finished her senior campaign with a career-high 16 goals and 32 points for the Gophers. In her career, Woken totaled 75 points in 128 games.
She played one season for Fargo South-Davies, tallying 63 points (43 goals, 20 assists) as a freshman, before attending Shattuck St. Mary’s prep school in Faribault, Minn.
Woken knows how to adapt. She left home at age 15 to attend the Minnesota boarding school four hours away, but is still getting acclimated to her new surroundings in Germany.
She’s learning a new culture and a new language, though her talent has been enough to overcome the language barrier on the ice. Woken is the eighth leading scorer in the seven-team Frauen-Bundesliga with 10 goals and 17 points in 14 games for the Mad Dogs (7-7).
Woken lives in Viernheim, a town about 15 minutes away on the outskirts of Mannheim. She moved out of her college apartment last August and arrived in Germany a week later.
It wasn’t easy to get overseas. Germany is strict with its border, which made it difficult to get into the country. She’s enrolled in a German language course through a local college and that helped her get into the country. Playing for Mannheim wouldn’t have been enough for entry, at that time.
“Unfortunately here, women’s sports aren’t nearly looked at as big as they are in the U.S.,” she said. “Maybe if I was a men’s hockey player, that might have been enough to get in. But women’s sports, especially hockey, aren’t high on the list.”
Woken, the only American on her team, learned quickly how different the sport was approached in Germany.
“Even though, yes, it’s a professional sport, a professional league, it’s not nearly as supported as even college hockey back home,” Woken said. “So it’s definitely been an adjustment. But it’s been good. It’s a lot of fun. I’m glad I’m over here.”
It was around this time last year when Woken tossed around the idea of playing overseas with her best friends and roommates — Patti Marshall and Katie Robinson — who were also Woken’s teammates at Minnesota.
The Gophers went 27-6-3 last season and were the No. 4 seed heading into the NCAA Division I tournament, but they never made it there. The tournament was canceled ahead of the opening round when the coronavirus outbreak first hit.
Woken and her roommates were waiting to make a decision to play overseas until after the season ended. The unsatisfying and abrupt conclusion made the choice easy for them.
Initially, the three wanted to play on the same team overseas, but imports are a bit more expensive, and it wasn’t feasible for teams to take all three of them, Woken said. Marshall ended up in Sweden, Robinson in Finland and Woken in Germany.
They haven’t been able to visit each other.
“We wanted to travel and experience the world and it's kind of been thrown for a loop just because of COVID,” Woken said. “We haven’t really been able to travel all that much, which has been a bummer. But with this vaccine and everything, we’re hoping maybe at the end of our season, we’ll be able to travel a little bit more together.”
Woken hasn’t seen her parents since she left in August, either. Her mom and dad were planning to visit over Thanksgiving and Christmas, but were unable to with the lockdown that went into place.
Her parents have caught hundreds of her games over the years. This year, that’s different.
Mannheim is seven hours ahead of Fargo. The Mad Dogs play at night on Saturdays — late morning in Fargo time — and 11 a.m. on Sundays, which is about 4 a.m. in Fargo. Her parents still manage to wake up before 4 a.m. on a Sunday to catch a game if it’s being streamed.
“They’ve been so used to watching every single one of my games in the past how many years that I’ve been playing hockey, and now it’s so hard for them to,” she said. “I think they’re just in such a routine of watching me that they’ll get up at 3:45 a.m. to get things ready and watch at 4 a.m.”
Woken is also routine-oriented. She doesn’t like to sit idle.
On top of playing pro hockey and taking a language course, she works at a hockey shop a few hours a week and has an internship, where only German is spoken. She doesn’t understand everything people are saying but can generally pick up on words and piece together the context.
“I’m not super busy, but busy enough to keep me busy throughout the week,” she said.
Woken interns at a vet clinic in Germany, which is about a 10-minute bike ride from her house. She plans to attend veterinary school back in the U.S. in fall 2021. If it’s possible to play hockey while attending school, she’d like to try.