And the return to action got the thumbs up from team captain Saffron Allen. "It was pretty incredible," she said of her team's first game in more than two years. "Playing in an arena like this, in front of such an amazing crowd. We were already hyped, but this took us to a different level."
Throughout the build-up to this tournament, the Lionesses had been upbeat about the prospect of returning to the ice in anger for first time since April 2019’s Division IIA campaign. And when the moment came, the Brits did not disappoint. Up against something of an unknown quantity in an Icelandic team attempting its first Olympic qualifying campaign, the Brits found the right tactics to take control in the early stages.
Defensively, the team was composed, moving the puck well to build a solid foundation. Going forward, incoming head coach Mike Clancy promised a change of style and a more aggressive approach than previous British teams had deployed. And that was evident from a willingness to shoot pucks early and hunt down any rebounds.
Those tactics delivered both of Britain’s first-period goals. The opener, midway through the frame, came from a rocket of a one-timer from Sarah Hutchison which Iceland’s goalie Birtu Helgudottir could only push into the path of Katherine Gale. A couple of minutes later we saw a similar goal from the opposite flank, with Nottingham-born Jodie-Leigh Bloom’s shot deflected into the path of Bethany Hill for a power play goal.
In the second period, the home offence tightened the screws and for long periods Iceland was unable to get out of its own territory. Inevitably, that pressure told. As Iceland got tired, the defence allowed too much space around Helgudottir’s net and Britain cashed in for a third goal when Aimee Headland fired home Rachel Cartwright’s pass from behind the net. Headland, 19, is one of her country’s North American-based players, most recently with Norwich University in NCAA III.
"There were some first-period nerves that saw the girls sit back a little more," said head coach Clancy. "But we all saw that tenacious effort in the second period where they were all over them, driving forward, all that net presence we brought up, getting pucks up, getting to the net quickly. That's what we worked on, that complete, end-to-end, tenacious, sticks-in-lanes kind of game."
At the other end, the anticipated duel between Iceland’s captain Silvia Bjorgvinsdottir and her Goteburg clubmate Nicole Jackson in goal for GB never really materialised. The two came face-to-face early in the third period when Bjorgvinsdottir got through on the net but saw her attempt to go top shelf gloved over the top by Jackson.
That came as a riposte to Britain’s fourth goal, a power play effort credited to captain Saffron Allen when she got the decisive touch to a tempting low point shot from Kathryn Marsden. Such was Britain's control of the game that understudy goalie Ella Howard could enter the game for the final minutes. And she was on the ice as her team got its best goal of the game late on. Casey Traill - the first British-trained player to be drafted into pro hockey in the USA - smashing home a superb one-timer to complete the scoring on a hugely satisfactory evening for the host nation.
"We worked hard in training, trying to become very drilled and very composed on the puck," concluded Allen. "We played a composed game today, we didn't panic on the puck after not having a proper game for so long. It's nice, it's good to get our feet rolling and to have so many different scorers. We can all put the puck in the net and we can all work hard until the game is over."