The Brits allowed just one goal in four games in Spain, wrapping it up with a 4-0 victory over Latvia to take gold on Friday.
The win sparked joyful scenes. Britain has been in IIA for six seasons, finishing second in the last two tournaments before the pandemic. And you have to go back to 2008 to find the last time a GB women’s roster won gold.
“It’s a huge sense of honour, pride and excitement to be moving up a level with this group,” said captain Saffron Allen. “We’ve waited for this for many years, and it’s a fantastic moment.”
It all came down to the final day, with Britain up against Latvia in a battle for top spot. Latvia, relegated from Division IB in 2019, the last time this level was able to play before the pandemic, suffered a surprise loss to Spain in its opening game and went to overtime before beating Chinese Taipei. But the Baltic nation was still in with a chance of gold if it could defeat GB in regulation.
To do that, Latvia would need to break down the tightest defence in the competition. In 180 minutes of hockey prior to Friday’s decider, only Spain’s Sofia Scilipoti managed to score on Britain. The Brits also had shutouts in two of their three Olympic Qualifying games back in October, underlining the power of that D-core, and Nicole Jackson made 22 saves to achieve yet another blank today.
“We stuck together all through this week,” added Allen. “We’ve got a real family atmosphere on this team and giving up just one goal in four games at this level, in international hockey is a fantastic achievement. We held together as a team, and we got the job done.”
At the other end, GB fired in 53 shots at Kristiana Apsite, controlling much of the game and eventually turning dominance into a commanding lead in the third.
However, in the second period Latvia posed more of a threat, particularly on the power play, and Nicole Jackson had to work hard for her shut-out. There were notable stops to stifle a one-on-one from Anna Lagzdina and then an effort from Linda Rulle after a turnover in the offensive zone to preserve Britain’s one-goal advantage.
Early in the third, though, Catherine Gale nipped in to take the puck off a team-mate’s stick and find the top shelf to give GB some breathing space. Then Emily Harris, enjoying her first international tournament, gobbled up the rebound from an Abi Culshaw shot. Finally, on a 5-on-3 power play, Louise Adams crowned her 50th international appearance with the fourth goal.
There was jubilation on the hooter, and again at the medal presentation late on Friday. But there’s also a sense that this is just the start of the story – especially in a season that has seen Britain’s women play in front of record crowds in Olympic qualification and build a growing band of followers on social media.
“It’s part of our legacy to inspire people,” Allen said. “We want to inspire the next generation, to get the nation to realise what women’s hockey can be.
“This is one promotion, it’s not going to be our last. We saw the men get a double bounce a few years ago and I don’t see why we can’t do that as well. We can’t wait for this time next year.”
Latvian forwards impressOn its first appearance in a Division II tournament, Latvia finished in second place. Miks Golubovics’ team had some fine individual performers – with Liga Miljone (5+2) and Krista Yip-Chuk (4+2) leading the scoring charts – but was always struggling to catch up after that opening defeat.
Host nation Spain was in with a chance of silver, which would have been its best ever result in World Championship play. However, losing 0-2 to Mexico in the final game cost the Spanish second place. There was still plenty of encouragement though, with Spain defeating Latvia for the first time in its history and pushing GB all the way before falling to two goals in the last three minutes.
Chinese Taipei claimed fourth place, consolidating after winning promotion in 2019. That’s the country’s highest placing in women’s hockey since its IIHF debut in 2017. For Mexico, Monica Renteria’s heroics in the 2-0 win against Spain – she stopped 47 shots to deny the host a silver medal – meant that the week ended on a high note despite finishing in fifth and last place. The sixth team in this group, DPR Korea, had to withdraw from this year’s competition due to Covid-19.
The directorate awards were shared among the three medallists. Spain’s Alba Gonzalo got the nod as best goalie – despite strong competition from Jackson and Renteria – thanks in no small part to her stellar performance against Latvia in the opening game. Britain’s Casey Traill, the first UK player to be drafted by the NWHL, was chosen as best defender. Her two goals and one assist made her the most productive blue liner at the competition. And Latvian hotshot Liga Miljone was named best forward after topping the individual scoring chart with 7 (5+2) points.