Now they’re gearing up to make their return to IIHF play, competing once again at home, this time in the Olympic Pre-Qualification Round 2 Group F tournament. Originally slated to be played in Korea at the venue of the 2018 Olympics, the tournament was relocated to Nottingham, England due to the Covid-19 situation in Korea.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said defender Casey Traill, who completed her NCAA Div III career with Castleton University this spring and in June became the first UK player to be drafted to the NWHL. “I think everybody’s been working hard towards something for so long now without an end goal. Now we’ve finally got the end goal and everybody’s completely ready for it.”
From 7 to 10 October, Great Britain will face Korea, Slovenia and Iceland, with the winner advancing to one of the Final Olympic Qualification tournaments taking place in November. Games will be contested at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre, a state-of-the-art facility with two Olympic-sized rinks, the first facility of its kind to be built in the UK.
“It’s still a very modern arena, and it’s a fantastic facility,” said forward Saffron Allen. “[Nottingham is] pretty central to our country and they are a hockey-loving city, which over in the UK there’s not many of, so it’s nice to have the support of a big city with people who like the sport and know the sport.”
While Allen, Traill and their teammates had been preparing to make the trip to Korea for the tournament up until just a few weeks ago, they see this new opportunity to play on home ice as an advantage.
“I think what’s going to probably be the difference is we’re going to be on home ice,” said long-time national team goaltender Nicole Jackson, who plays for the SDHL’s Goteborg HC. “We’re going to try to make it hard for the teams to come and play us. I think the energy [on the team] is really good at the moment, so that’s going to be the driving point for us.”
Great Britain will be looking to improve upon their results from the qualification process for the 2018 Olympics, when they finished third behind Poland and Kazakhstan in the Round 2 Group G tournament.
“We obviously all always want to go into a tournament and win that tournament, and that definitely is the aim for this group,” said Allen. “We’ve got tough teams in the tournament, but they’re all beatable.”
Great Britain’s roster will look slightly different than in the past, with five players making their senior team debut, including University of Calgary goalie Ella Howard and 17-year-old Welsh forward Charlotte Harris. The team has new bench staff as well, with Mike Clancy as head coach and Sean Anderson as assistant coach.
“This team that they’ve selected, it’s a different team to have ever been selected before, but I feel like we’re a very quick team,” said Allen. “We’re fit, we’re quick, we’re quite aggressive with battles for the puck and getting the puck to the net.”
Traill agrees. “I think we’re a team that people haven’t seen before,” she said. “We’re in great shape, everybody is really really motivated, we all have the same goals in mind. I think that it is really difficult to play against a team that wants and almost feels like they need to win.”
When Great Britain lines up for their opening face-off on October 7 with home ice advantage, the return to international play will feel extra special.
“To have it now on home ice is just incredible,” said Allen. “It’s a real honour to be able to play in front of our own fans on our own turf, and kind of get back into it on our own ground.”