Friday night’s game between GB and Slovenia attracted 1,027 spectators – a record attendance for a women’s international in the country. And the record did not last long, with 1,700 fans coming to the Motorpoint Arena for Sunday’s showdown against Korea. The last time GB women played a tournament on home ice, in 2019 in Dumfries, the biggest crowd of the week was just over 600.
The support did not go unnoticed by the team. “There was just this massive roar any time anything happened,” said GB forward Katie Marsden. “Any time we got the puck, any time Korea lost the puck, we could really hear them. The crowd was incredible.”
And the head coach, Mike Clancy, was also encouraged by the support his team attracted – and hopes that this might be the start of something big for the British women’s program.
“Right through the tournament, people came out and supported GB women in a great way,” he said. “Hopefully this is a launch pad for the women’s program.”
The price is right
The success was partly due to competitive pricing: a ticket for each day’s play was just £6:50, with accompanied under-16s getting in for free. For comparison, the cheapest adult seats to watch Nottingham Panthers in Elite League action on Saturday evening were £18 or £10 for juniors.
“The pricing was a really good idea to make it attractive,” said Allan Petrie, chair of the GB Supporters Club. “It’s brought in a lot of people that maybe weren’t that interested in ice hockey, or women’s ice hockey, and had them thinking ‘you know what, this is quite good’.
“Now they might return for the friendlies when the men or the women are playing during the season.”
For many fans, it was a first look at women’s hockey live and in person and they were treated to hard-fought clashes as Britain battled with Slovenia and Korea in hard-fought one-goal games. Mick and Sarah Bryan made the 130-mile trip from Blackburn, where team GB head coach Mike Clancy has his day job behind the bench with the Hawks.
“It’s our first time watching a women’s game,” they said. “One of the lasses, Abbie Culshaw, plays for Blackburn [in the men’s NIHL] and they have our coach here. We got two games today at a nice price so why not? It’s a good day out.
“The play’s really good, the standard’s good. We’ve been watching on the TV for the last couple of days as well and we’ve enjoyed it. If it fits in, we’d like to come back and see some more.”
The next generation
Part of the aim was to inspire a new generation of hockey players and fans. On Thursday and Friday, the afternoon games were opened up to school parties, several of whom combined a trip to the skating rink in the National Ice Centre next door with a chance to watch the likes of Korea or Slovenia in action.
Headteacher Sally Morgan brought a class of 10-11-year-olds from Heathlands Primary School in nearby Mansfield for a day of ice action.
“It’s definitely the first time a lot of them will have seen a game,” she said. “For some it was the first time they’d been over on the ice as well. It’s really nice for them to see a live sporting event.
“As a school, we get offered a few events but this is something quite different for us. It’s especially good for the girls to see that women can play sport at a high level. Maybe we’ll inspire some future GB players. I could see on the ice we’ve got a couple who looked quite good, so who knows?”
And Petrie, too, is looking forward to seeing renewed interest in women’s hockey on the back of this weekend.
“I really hope it’s going to be a step forward,” he said. “It’s the first time the women have played an Olympic qualification tournament on home ice and I think we’re all hoping it’s just going to inspire another generation to come through and look at women’s hockey and think ‘I want to do this’.”