As a member of Solihull Vixens, Olivia Mason played 13 games this season and came away with as many points, while as a member of Team GB, she helped her team bring home the silver medal in the Women’s World Championship (Division 2A).
She very kindly agreed to answer some questions for me regarding her UK and International careers, as well as women’s hockey as a whole.
Me: So let’s start at the beginning: What got you into ice hockey?
Olivia: I went ice skating for my little brother’s 7th birthday and we both became addicted. From there we were fixated with the Coventry Blaze and my brother then joined the junior development system with the Blaze. I was jealous of all the attention he received so I decided to give it a go and have never looked back! Neither of us have.
Me: I’ve been doing some reading up, and learnt that you went over to Canada to study and play hockey at the prestigious Athol Murray College of Notre Dame. There are some huge names in the NHL who played for their team. How did that amazing opportunity come about?
Olivia: I was looking into schools abroad just randomly and came across Notre Dame, and it turned out that my brother-in-law who was playing for the Blaze at the time (Danny Stewart who is now coaching Fife Flyers) actually went to school there for four years and played junior hockey there. I took it upon myself to find sponsors to help fly me over to look around and after being there for a week and skating with a few of the girls, I fell in love with the place, received a scholarship and left for the year a few months later. I was only 16, so it was a huge adjustment, but I loved every single minute of my time there and it will always be a huge part of my life. I strongly encourage anyone to do it.
Me: You’ve been playing on an international stage for Team GB since you were a teenager, as part of both the Under-16 and Under-18 teams. How does that differ from playing for the Women’s Senior team?
Olivia: I played for England U16s for a few years before heading to Canada, and was part of the U18 GB squad while I was away but I didn’t experience world championships until this year. Playing for the GB senior team is obviously massively different from playing England U16s – not only was that seven years ago, but the talent and the standard of women’s hockey here has improved drastically so it’s pretty incomparable. Saying that, a lot of the girls who I played with in the U16s were part of the GB team this year so it was nice to see so many girls still involved. GB Senior Women is the highest level of women’s hockey in this country, so coming from any league or team is a big jump. I found it challenging at first to adapt from Women’s Premier League to World Championships, as I’m sure a lot of the girls not only on GB but other teams at worlds did too, because the hockey was obviously a lot faster and physical compared to what I’ve ever played. So it was a great experience and gave me chance to see where I’m at individually as well as the team on a whole.
Me: Speaking of which, obviously losing the gold-medal game at the Worlds this year must have been a disappointment – even though everyone is so proud of the silver medal you brought home – but overall, how was the experience?
Olivia: It was definitely disappointing. I mean, losing any game in a competitive sport is hard, but being one goal away from winning gold was most definitely heart breaking. As a squad we began training early in the season and in the first camp we were told by the coaching staff that our ‘motto’ if you like, was “Gold Medal Thinking”. Gradually throughout the season, as camps became harder and the team selection got closer, we became more and more determined and fixated on winning gold. We wanted to prove a point, which was that we are a very talented and hard-working team, who quite simply deserved gold. Although we didn’t achieve what we set out to do, I know we worked our absolute hardest from start to finish of every single game and we most definitely proved a point – as well as making us even hungrier for next year! Nothing beats the feeling of standing on your blue line after a win, screaming your national anthem with 21 of your best friends.
The entire experience is something I will keep with me for the rest of my life. We had an absolutely incredible group of girls who all became best friends pretty much – you’d think after spending 26 hours on a bus and 12 days continuously with the same people would become boring and irritating, but I can honestly say it was absolutely the opposite. On and off the ice we made amazing memories – it’s actually difficult to put it into words how great it was. The hockey was obviously fantastic and I know the other teams there were worried about playing Team GB, which is always nice!!
Me: And the reason the two of us started talking originally: Women’s hockey in the UK. I know you agree that the sport needs a lot more promotion and support in order to get it the attention it deserves. How do you see that happening? What can be done to spread the word?
Olivia: I think the main issue with Women’s hockey in the UK right now is funding. A lot can change with funding – maybe more games in the league? I for one don’t feel like 14 games in a season is enough. More money allows teams such as Whitley Bay Squaws from the Division 1 league to come up to the Premier league, as they dominate their division, but can’t afford to travel down to places like Streatham, Bracknell, Slough, Guildford and Milton Keynes. More competition means the hockey has chance to improve.
In terms of promotion, I feel like the GB team especially had a decent amount of promotion before we left for Italy, but as for the women’s leagues we get next to none. I think the problem is that women’s hockey is stereotyped in terms of standards – not only in the UK but all over the world. People would rather travel to watch the men, because the hockey is faster and more physical. I’m not quite sure what the solution is for that, other than maybe getting women’s teams out on the ice between periods of men’s games to show everyone what we’re capable of?
As I said before, support especially is slow progressing, especially for the GB women’s team. I’m really hoping that if we win the bid to host World’s in Scotland next year, [Note from Kim: we did win the bid!] we will see a lot of fans there to support us. I’m also hoping that by medalling and receiving a lot of support on Twitter especially over the week of World’s, people will be more encouraged to come out and watch a bit more women’s hockey.
Last note on support and promotion: I think the guys playing in the EIHL and EPL especially, have a lot of ‘power’ over the fans in UK hockey and it would be nice to see them encouraging their fans to support the girls.
Me: Canada is getting closer to a women’s professional league with the CWHL, but even they’re still quite a way off. Do you see anything similar ever happening in this country?
Olivia: Unfortunately I can’t say I do – not any time soon anyway. If Canada are only JUST putting a professional women’s league together after years and years of success with women’s hockey not only in the midget and college level, but international level too; I think the UK might have a ways to go. It’s where funding comes into play again – in order to have a professional women’s league there needs to be money to accommodate to players, ice time, travel etc… I’m hopeful that maybe one day there will be a possibility.
Me: Potentially a controversial questions, but there’s been a lot of talk recently, thanks to women such as Shannon Szabados and Noora Raty, about the possibilities of women playing in men’s leagues, including the NHL. Do you feel that this is the right aim, or should we be looking for women’s leagues to simply gain equal footing with men’s?
Olivia: I mean if they’re skilled, strong and capable hockey players I don’t see why women can’t play with the men. I’m on the fence about it, because I know leagues such as the NHL host the best players in the world. Not only that, it’s an extremely physical league and I can’t say I can see a girl being able to comfortably play. Lower leagues I think there’s absolutely a possibility – but whether it happens or not? I don’t know. I think the aim right now is to gain equal footing with the men. It’s probably the more realistic approach to improving women’s hockey.
Me: What are your long-term hockey goals? Do you want to stay with the WPL, or would you look at moving abroad for more opportunities?
Olivia: Long-term I want to play for as long as I can and at the highest standard as possible. I have one year left of my degree and I’ll then consider looking at teams abroad – more for the experience of travelling and experiencing leagues outside of the UK and Canada.
Me: Other than your own, of course, which hockey teams (UK or abroad) do you support?
Olivia: I’ve grown up in the Coventry Blaze system, so that’s a given. I’m also a fan of the Fife Flyers due to my brother-in-law coaching up there. However, I’m neutral when they play against one another! I’ll always support the Notre Dame Hounds, as they are my Alma mater. And I support both St Louis Blues and Toronto Maple Leafs – having friends from Notre Dame on both teams.
Me: Who is your hockey role model?
Olivia: I would say my little brother – David. He’s a great player and an incredible leader and he’s always there giving me advice whenever I need it. He’s part of the GB 20s and has gone through the England and GB system since he was 11 years old. He came to Notre Dame and made his way from the bottom boys team in his first year, to the top AAA team in his last year – as well as winning Athlete of the Year in his senior year at Notre Dame (which is pretty impressive). He’s now playing junior hockey in Utah and is doing extremely well – for a 19 year old boy he’s achieved so much already and he’s such a great role model for young British hockey players. He’s definitely my best friend and we’ve always been competitive, so I hope one day I’ll at least beat him on the ice somehow!!
Me: You wore #10 for GB and wear #19 for Solihull. Why those numbers?
Olivia: I remember my brother wore 10 when he first started hockey, so I chose the same number and it stuck with me. Funnily enough, we didn’t choose numbers for GB this year and it just so happened I was given that number! There isn’t any exciting story behind number 19, unfortunately as a rookie on the team I got last pick of numbers!
Me: Do you have any pre-game superstitions or rituals?
Olivia: Not really, I always put my equipment on the same way – left skate before right every time, left leg tape before right etc. I’ve also always taped my stick black, because the first time I ever used white I scored an own goal and thought it was because I switched to white! I was only U12s but I’ve never gone back!
Me: What’s your favourite hockey-related memory?
Olivia: I have far too many to list them all; Notre Dame is classed as a hockey-related memory and it was the best thing I ever did. I really wish I’d gone earlier than I did! Obviously playing for GB Women will always be one of the best memories! Meeting Hound Alumn Vincent Lecavlier was pretty cool too! Being the first girl to ever play in a Varsity game for Coventry University this year, as well as scoring their first goal was something I won’t forget either.
Me: What would you say to any young girl who is considering ice hockey as a sport?
Olivia: What are they waiting for!? I’ve met people ALL over the world through hockey- male and female, some of which I will be friends with for life. I think I know at least one person in every country from playing hockey in different places (or near enough anyways!). It’s an extremely exciting sport – the adrenaline rush you experience when you play in front of a big crowd or for your country is indescribable. It provides you with so many opportunities to travel and see new places and experience new things. I strongly encourage it. It really is the best sport in the world.
Thank you again to Olivia for taking the time to talk to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing her on the ice next season – and in 2015 at World’s, of course!