Review of the EIHA Women’s Trophy Weekend 2014

This was the first time I’d had the chance to watch live women’s hockey, and the first time I’d been to a weekend-long tournament. I had high hopes, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.  I had one of the best weekends, met some amazing people – both players and supporters – and got to talk to a huge amount of new people on Twitter.  All alongside watching some of the best hockey I’ve seen in a long time.  Win!

So anyway, with only 4 games on Saturday, rather than the 5 on Sunday, it was a slightly later start, with the first game starting at 12:15.  The schedule had all four of the semi-finals on Saturday, with the two 3rd-place games and three finals on Sunday.

The majority of spectators appeared to be directly connected with one of the 8 teams playing, with an especially loud contingent from both Bracknell and Swindon.  While there wasn’t a lot of crowd interaction, there was clearly more when it came to the Premier games, as opposed  to the Division 1 games.

Full details of all of the goals and penalties can be found on the EIHA website.  I apologise for my lack of photos from Sunday, but I didn’t have my camera and was limited to using my phone.  For some great photos though, I recommend following @Flyfifer on Twitter or Dave Steadman Photography on Facebook.

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Photo credit: CarolinaKaniac.wordpress.com

Division 1 Semi-Final: Whitley Squaws vs Cardiff Comets (12-0)

Sadly, from the start, it was clear that Cardiff was outmatched.  Whitley Bay’s first goal of the game came at 1:03, unassisted from Amy Campbell.  It would take another 12 minutes for the next goal to come, during which time, Cardiff had taken 3 penalties and were starting to struggle.  When the fourth goal for Whitley Bay hit the back of the net – Stephanie Towns from Kaitlyn Butterfield and Ashleigh Holland – at 20:09, it was the beginning of the end for Cardiff.

Goals came in regularly between then and the end of the game, including a power play goal at 21:12 from Stephanie Towns again, and two goals within 3 minutes for Sarah Smith.  Cardiff fought with everything they had, but the speed of Whitley Bay had them chasing their tails, and by the time Ashleigh Holland completed her hat trick (with all three of her goals being assisted by Kate Ord) at 41:50, Whitley Bay were up 12-0.  Kate Ord came away with 6 points, with Ashleigh Holland on 4 and Helen Emerson, Jamie Kraft and Stephanie Towns with 3 points apiece.

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Photo credit: CarolinaKaniac.wordpress.com

A special shout-out has to go to Gemma Davies, netminder for Cardiff.  She faced an incredible 56 shots and never once looked like she was giving up hope.  Gemma more than deserved the player of the match award that she received.  Player of the match for Whitley Bay was Stephanie Towns.

Division 1 Semi-Final: Swindon Topcats vs Coventry Phoenix (1-0)

This game was a lot more evenly-matched, and both teams came out fast, ready to fight for the win.  There was a lot of end-to-end play, with some fantastic interceptions and takeaways on both sides.

The only goal of the game came just before the end of the first period, unassisted from Rebecca Da Cova, but the change in the score didn’t seem to affect any of the effort that both teams were putting in.

Interestingly, some of the best chances that Coventry had were while they were on the penalty kill.  I don’t think it was actually the case, but it seemed to me that they had more shots on goal while short-handed than they did at equal strength, or even with the player advantage.  Even during the two 5-on-3 opportunities that they had, they seemed to struggle to make them count.

Unsurprisingly, the two players of the match were the netminders, Rachel Pullen and Tam Donaghue.

Premier League Semi-Final: Bracknell Queen Bees vs Guildford Lightning (4-3)

I was really looking forward to this game, as I’d heard a lot about Bracknell and wanted to see them in action.  The Queen Bees were already League Champions and played in the European Women Champions Cup this season.  They’re an extremely strong team and, the way the draw for the semis fell, they were playing against fourth place Guildford Phantoms.  In all honesty, I expected this to be a somewhat uneven match-up.  But I was happily proven wrong.

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Photo credit: CarolinaKaniac.wordpress.com

I could see the difference in levels between Division One and the Premier League almost immediately.  The teams were much faster, with beautiful clean passes, and some slapshots from the blue lines that made me duck, despite them being nowhere near me.

Guildford actually scored first, thanks to Jordan Wilshire and assisted by Kristin Hissong, just prior to the midway point of the first period.  Bracknell tied the game a couple of minutes before the end of the period with a shot that seemed to bounce around on the ice before slipping past netminder Sam Bolwell.

A Delayed Penalty call on Guildford gave Bracknell a player advantage in the second period.  When a shot rang off Bracknell’s crossbar, they quickly picked the puck back up and ran it all the way down the length of the ice for Christine Newman to shoot and score.  That goal took Bracknell 3-2 up, but they didn’t keep their lead for long as a short-handed goal from Louise Adams equalised for Guildford.

Throughout the third period, it looked like the game was going to end up going to overtime.  One team would gain some momentum, and then the other team would steal it straight back.  But around 3 minutes from the end of the period, a second goal from Christine Newman pulled Bracknell ahead.  I honestly expected Guildford to find another one, but a penalty at 58:09 gave Bracknell the player advantage once more, and Guildford couldn’t quite find the back of the net.

A disappointing final result for Guildford, who played extremely well, but a well-deserved win for Bracknell.

Premier League Semi-Final: Kingston Diamonds vs Slough Phantoms (6-0)

This was the final game of the afternoon, and again one I was looking forward to, as Kingston are one of my local teams and I’d heard some good things about them.

Kingston dominated the game from the start, when they scored their first goal on a power play opportunity at just 2:16, coming from Sarah Hutchinson, with assists from Abbie Culshaw and Shannon Jones.  The goals eased off for the rest of the first period, although Kingston still managed 12 shots on goal – it was a testament to netminder Michaela Walker that no more went in.

The second period saw Kingston make an impressive 25 more shots on goal, with two of them slipping past the netminder – less than a minute apart.  But the third period was where things got interesting.  And by interesting, I mean messy.

The two teams seemed to receive penalty after penalty, with one clearing a PK just in time to go on the PP.  There were at least two periods of 4-on-4 play, and then Kingston made the score 5-0 with a short handed goal from Beth Scoon.  A brief 5-on-3 for Slough couldn’t make the difference, and when Abbie Culshaw fired in the sixth goal of the game on a Delayed Penalty call at 59:31, the end result was determined.

Something appeared to happen at the end of the game, at least according to the penalties listed on the score sheet, with three Slough players receiving a 10 minute misconduct and one receiving a game misconduct, but I’m afraid I missed what that was.

Gemma Watt and Shannon Jones received the player of the match awards, but Michaela Walker faced 50 shots and was extremely good, in my opinion.

Division One 3rd Place Game: Cardiff Comets vs Coventry Phoenix (1-3)

Traffic issues meant that I arrived shortly after the game had already started, but thankfully the teams were considerate enough to hold off on anything too exciting until I got there!

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Photo credit: CarolinaKaniac.wordpress.com

This was the first time that Coventry had ever made the playoffs, and I know that they were thrilled to have made it as far as they did. While the result in the semi-final hadn’t been the one they hoped for, I didn’t think they were going to let go of this one easily.

The first goal of the game (and of the day) was unassisted from Hannah Worthington for Coventry 7:09 into the first period, giving them the early lead, and was followed 3 minutes later by one from Jennifer Adams.  While Cardiff fought back hard, the end of the first period remained 2-0 to Coventry.

In the second period, Cardiff came back stronger, netting their first goal.  The score sheet says it was Eleanore Berrow who scored, but a Twitter follower tells me it was Captain Jennifer Ball.  Either way, it halved Coventry’s lead and brought Cardiff back into the game.  The third period started with Coventry having the player advantage,  thanks to a late penalty from Cardiff and 2 minutes later, Hannah Worthington managed her second of the game, giving Coventry back their two-goal lead.

Two penalties for Coventry gave Cardiff just over a minute of 5-on-3 advantage, but even that wasn’t enough to get the game back.  They tried desperately to pull their netminder, but Coventry were keeping the pressure on right up until the last moment.

The final buzzer went, with the score at 3-1 Coventry Phoenix, making them the 2014 3rd place winners of Division One.

Players of the game were Megan Lawrence and Hannah Worthington.

Premier League 3rd Place Game: Guildford Lightning vs Slough Phantoms (2-1)

It took until the second period of this game for any goals to come about.  The first period was extremely evenly-matched, with both teams making some beautiful, clean passes and having some good shots on goal.  In fact, it wasn’t until 36 seconds before the end of the period that we had our first penalty, which went to Guildford, giving Slough a power play opportunity.  Which they lost when they took a penalty with 9 seconds remaining.

The second period started with 4-on-4 action, but neither team managed to break the stalemate. Shots on goal continued to come along, but none of them made it past the netminders.  At least, up until Jordan Wilshire broke through with a beautiful goal at 20:53.  Considering we’d waited more than 20 minutes for the first goal, I don’t think anyone expected the second to come just over 2 minutes later, but it did.  The unassisted goal from Louise Adams took Guildford to a 2-0 lead.

But apparently in this game, goals were coming in threes, although the third went to Slough, courtesy of Debbie Palmer Green at 25:36.  Both teams fought hard, but Guildford managed to hold onto their lead, all the way through the third period.

At the final buzzer, Guildford’s two quick goals won them the 2014 Premier League 3rd Place.

Players of the game were Debbie Palmer Green and Amy Lack.

Under-16s Final: Bracknell Ice Bees vs Kingston Diamonds (0-3)

These two teams have faced each other many times before, and this was guaranteed to be a great game.  I went into it thinking that maybe the Under-16s would be slower or less intense than the senior games, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The players were easily as fast as the senior players we’d been watching earlier, and just as fearless when it came to throwing their bodies in front of oncoming pucks.  The only difference was the size of some of them.  I kept forgetting that these players were the same age – or younger – than my daughter.

Unfortunately, I missed some of the timings of the penalties and one of the goals for this game, and the game sheet doesn’t seem to be available online for me to check.  Sorry.

After some 4-on-4 play in the first period, the first goal of the game came at 12:27 from Casey Traill, assisted by Beth Milne, taking Kingston 1-0 up.  Early in the second period, a bench penalty for Bracknell gave Kingston a power play opportunity, but some great defensive work by the Bracknell penalty killing team kept them from increasing their lead.

Shortly afterwards, Kingston managed their second goal, this time from Abbie Culshaw.  Their third goal came with exactly 5 minutes left on the period clock, and gave Casey Traill her second of the game.  The final period started with Kingston having a 3-0 lead, which they held onto for the entire 15 minutes.  Bracknell had one of their best chances on goal in the final minute of the game, but the Kingston netminder stood tall and kept them shut out.

Kingston lifted the 2014 Under-16 Championship Trophy, with players of the game going to Margeurite Laffitte and Abbie Culshaw.

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Photo credit: CarolinaKaniac.wordpress.com

Division One Final: Whitley Bay Squaws vs Swindon Topcats (3-4 OT)

With the first goal coming at only 18 seconds into the game, and matching penalties for both teams less than 4 minutes in, it was clear what type of game this was going to be.  Fast, hard and brutal.  If you came to the Trophy Weekend to see some good hockey, this was what it was all about.

As mentioned, Kate Ord got her first goal of the game before anyone was expecting it.  With assists from Helen Emerson and Ashleigh Holland, it set the tone for the game.  6 penalties were split between the teams in the first period, and for that first 20 minutes, it looked like Whitley Bay were dominating the ice.  Even during their power play chances, Swindon were struggling to get control of the puck, fighting off several good short-handed opportunities from Whitley Bay.

With a second 4-on-4 play, Kate Ord found the back of the net again, this time unassisted, giving Whitley Bay a 2-0 lead.  Swindon were clearly getting frustrated, and a penalty at the end of the first period meant that Whitley Bay started the second on a player advantage.  However, I can only assume that something significant was said on the bench during the break, as Swindon came back with a vengeance.  30 seconds after the penalty was killed, Rebecca Osman got Swindon on the score sheet with an unassisted goal.

Two more goals came from Swindon in the final minutes of the period – only 18 seconds apart!  Rebecca Osman got her second, and then assisted on Sarah Jane Fletcher’s goal.  To say the crowd was going wild isn’t much of an exaggeration.

The third period started with Swindon leading 3-2, but at 40:19, Kate Ord got her hat-trick and evened the score at 3-3.  A false alarm on one of Swindon’s power plays looked initially like a goal, but was deemed not, so the score stayed equal and the teams carried on fighting.  And fight they both did.

The netminder for Swindon, Rachel Pullen, appeared to be injured during the game, but in true hockey style, she stayed on the ice.  Both her and Rachel Jackson for Whitley Bay made some saves that were utterly amazing.  I can only imagine they’ve both got some interesting bruises to show for it today.

With only 0:17 left in regulation time, Swindon received a tripping penalty, and we went into overtime with Whitley Bay on the power play.  For those who don’t know, overtime is a 5 minute period of 4-on-4 play (or 4-on-3 in this case) which is sudden death – meaning that whoever scores first, wins.  It’s always nail-biting, no matter what level of hockey you’re watching, and this was no exception.  The Swindon penalty expired at 61:43.  At 61:55, Anne-Sheralie Chilcott found the back of the net, unassisted, and the game was over!

Swindon Topcats became the 2014 Division One Champions!

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Photo credit: Flyfifer

Premier League Final: Bracknell Queen Bees vs Kingston Diamonds (1-2 SO)

Any match-up between these two teams was going to be a tough one.  Bracknell, the current league champions, against Kingston, the league runners-up and the current playoff champions.

The first thing I noticed about the game was how physical it was getting.  IIHF rules don’t allow bodychecking in women’s hockey, but there were still a lot of bodies hitting the boards in front of me with enough force for me to feel the vibrations in the floor.  NHL hockey talks about players “taking the hit to make the play” when they put their bodies on the line to get that perfect stick pass.  I saw enough of this happening early on in this game to make me realise that these women are every bit as dedicated and determined as their male counterparts.

First penalty of the game went to Kingston, and while Bracknell kept the puck firmly in the right half of the rink, the Kingston defensive players held them back. Almost as soon as the penalty was killed, Kingston received a second, this time an interference bench penalty and Bracknell got a second chance on the power play.  When Kingston got their third penalty, they gave Bracknell more than a minute of 5-on-3 advantage, most of which was wiped out by Bracknell’s penalty.

By the time both teams were back at full strength, I don’t think anyone knew what was going on anymore.  With the first period moving towards a close, and a total of 12 minutes of penalties already served, Leanne Ganney found the back of the net and gave Bracknell a 1-0 lead going into the second.  It was clear who had the momentum in the first period, with Bracknell making 12 shots on goal, compared to Kingston’s 3.

Both teams managed a few less penalties in the second period, but it started off very choppy, with a lot of takeaways and interceptions, and neither team getting any real shots on goal.  Halfway through the period and Kingston began to pick up the pace.  A frantic couple of minutes play saw shot after shot on goal, each one either going wide, or being stopped by the Bracknell netminder.  They were getting frustrated, and at 37:56, matching penalties were issued, taking it to 4-on-4 play, right up until Bracknell received another penalty and gave Kingston 55 seconds of 4-on-3 advantage.

As the simultaneous penalties expired, and just as the period clock was about to do the same, with Kingston still on the power play, Beth Scoon fired the puck straight into the back of the net and equalised the score at 1-1.  The clock on the wall was actually showing 0:00 remaining, but the referees confirmed that there was officially 00:01 left when the puck went in.  Talk about cutting it close.

With that goal, the third period started with both teams at full strength.  At least for a short time.  Kingston received a penalty.  Then 2 minutes after that one expired, Bracknell received one.  And again, 2 minutes after that expired, Bracknell received another.  The teams were getting frantic and it was showing with the penalties they were receiving.

Although, I do have to say that some of the penalties that were being called seemed a little ridiculous, if I’m honest.  When teams are playing a game this important, when it’s this close in score, to start calling penalties for seemingly minor infractions just adds to the frustration levels of the players.  But then I’m not a referee, so this is just my opinion.

Anyway, back to the game.  With only 20 seconds left on the period clock – and of regulation time – a player took a hit and went down.  At first I believed it was a Kingston player, due to the green jerseys I saw around her, but it turned out that it was Chrissy Newman of Bracknell, who was struggling to sit up and was holding her head.  She was taken off the ice by the medics, to a round of applause from both players and spectators, and Bracknell had to put their concern behind them.

The period ended, and for the second time in two finals, we were going to overtime.  The 5 minutes seemed to fly by, with both teams giving everything they had right up until the final moment.  When that buzzer went, it meant only one thing: the women’s premier league championship was going to be decided by penalty shots.

I hate, hate, hate, the idea of a game as important as this coming down to a battle of skill between one player and a netminder.  In NHL, the Stanley Cup Playoff games have 20 minute overtime periods.  And as many of them as they need for someone to score.  For reference, the longest ever Stanley Cup Playoff game ended up going 116 minutes (Detroit Redwings vs Montreal Canadiens in 1936.  If you’re interested, the game was finally won by Detroit).  But we play by IIHF rules, which means a 5 minute sudden death period, then best-of-3 penalty shots, and then continual penalty shots until someone gets a goal and the other one doesn’t.  So, penalty shots we had.

Bracknell won the coin toss and chose to go first.

Bracknell Shot 1: Saved
Kingston Shot 1: Goal
Bracknell Shot 2: Saved
Kingston Shot 2: Goal

That was all it needed.  Kingston Diamonds won in a penalty shootout, and their bench erupted.  Gloves, helmets and sticks went flying across the ice, as players and coaches hugged and congratulated each other.  The crowd was so loud that I couldn’t even hear the announcement of the goal, but confirmed that it had been Shannon Jones who made that final shot and won the Bill Britton Trophy for the Diamonds.

Players of the game were Samantha Donovan and Natalie Davies.

What I learned about women’s hockey (and the weekend in general)

  • It’s fast.  A lot faster than I expected.  Because it’s not as physical as men’s games, the players are more reliant on their speed and their skill, rather than their ability to cross-check.
  • If the Under-16s that I watched are examples of the quality of players we have coming into the senior leagues, I have high hopes for the future of Team GB.
  • Size isn’t important (although women have been saying this to men for years!).  Some of the best players I was watching were the smallest.
  • If I’m watching any hockey at Ice Sheffield, wear at least two extra layers of clothing. And take gloves.  I can’t believe how cold I was there.  I’m spoiled – I’m used to the Metropoint Arena which is a lot warmer!
  • Remembering to type “player advantage” and “player of the game”, rather than “man advantage” and “man of the match” was hard, but necessary.  For hockey to become inclusive, phrases like that need to be removed from hockey discussions, in my opinion.
  • Live tweeting that many hockey games is exhausting, and a challenge to keep up.  But every reply, retweet and favourite that I received made it worthwhile.  Knowing that I was helping fans – literally across the globe – who wanted to follow their teams, gave me warm fuzzy glows.
  • Related to that – the more I tweet during a game, the easier it is to write up these reports afterwards.  Note to self: do  that more.  It makes for much more interesting reading.
  • But most importantly, the players that I spoke to over the weekend are some of the friendliest, most welcoming, most dedicated athletes I’ve ever met.  They love playing the sport as much as I love watching it and it shows in every word they say. It was truly a delight to meet the ones I did, both in person and those I spoke to on Twitter.

Thank you to everyone who made the weekend possible, especially the EIHA.  And Congratulations again to all of the teams who made it to the playoff weekend.  You were all amazing x

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