DUMFRIES, Great Britain – Scotland has always been a big part of British men’s hockey – and now it’s becoming a hot spot for the women’s game as well.
Dumfries, home of the Solway Sharks, is set to host 2015 IIHF Ice Hockey Women’s World Championship Division II Group A next April while the newly-formed Sharks Ladies played their first ever competitive game on Oct. 4, beating the Sheffield Shadows 5-0 in the English Ice Hockey Association’s Division One North.
It’s all grown from the efforts of the Sharks – stalwarts of the Northern Ice Hockey League – to start growing the game in south-west Scotland. Backed by UK Ice Hockey and the Dumfries & Galloway Council, the club first welcomed international hockey to the Shark Tank in 2012, staging an U18 Women’s tournament.
“Since then the women’s game in Dumfries has gone from a couple of local players on recreational teams to a fully established ladies team,” said Scott McMeeken, assistant coach of the Sharks’ men’s team and a ‘Learn To Play’ instructor with Ice Hockey UK.
“The Sharks Ladies have 26 players, and they’ve been allowed to play in the English league system because they are currently the only senior ladies team in Scotland.”
The team also got involved with the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend, playing a hard-fought exhibition game with the Billingham Ladies on Saturday. That formed part of a packed program on and off the ice, with taster sessions giving about 70 people a chance to try the sport for the first time and make contact with local junior and ladies’ teams. McMeeken is hoping to see a boost in numbers at those teams in the coming weeks and the taster events encouraged a group of about 15 girls to come back for Sunday’s designated Learn To Play session, which involved players from the Solway Sharks Ladies and representatives of Ice Hockey UK.
There was also a social event around Saturday evening’s St. Andrew’s Cup game between the Sharks men and Whitley Warriors. With cut-price admission and a free drink on arrival for all female fans, the evening helped attract new supporters to the arena – and the team delivered with a 4-1 win.
Big events – be it the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend or hosting international tournaments – always help to raise the game’s profile, but the Sharks also benefit from an on-going relationship with local schools.
“We have programs to get schools into the rink during their teaching time so the kids can learn how to skate,” McKeeken added. “We’ve also allocated schools tickets for the IIHF tournaments we’ve hosted and we will do the same next year.
“We’ve had 1,000 school children coming to each tournament to watch some of the games, so that really helps us promote the sport and increase the number of people playing the game.”
Dumfries wasn’t the only British rink marking the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend. The Nottingham Vipers held a taster session of their own at the National Ice Centre with a bunch of first-time skaters getting an introduction to the basics of puck-handling.
Vipers assistant manager Marie Would was delighted with how the session went. “It was great to see how they enjoyed it,” she said. “We had one girl who didn’t even want to get on the ice at first because she was afraid she couldn’t skate, but in the end she didn’t want to leave! When she did come off the ice she had a huge smile on her face and she’d really enjoyed the session.”
for the World Girls’ Ice Hockey Weekend tracker with events from all over the world.