Dumfries internationals inspire a generation
by Andy Potts|08 MAR 2023
Years after IIHF tournaments started to came to town, Dumfries native Cassie McGregor had her international debut and scored her first goal at the 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship Division II Group A.
photo: Karl Denham
It’s 10 seasons since Dumfries first hosted IIHF hockey. Over that time, seeing Britain’s top players in the women’s and junior men’s game come to town has inspired a new generation of hockey talent in this small Scottish town.

The 2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women’s World Championship played here recently brought a milestone: Cassie McGregor, who had barely started school when international hockey first came to town, became the first Dumfries-born player to score for her country at her hometown arena.

It was a huge moment for the 15-year-old, who also picked up player of the game honours in Great Britain’s 3-0 victory over Mexico.

“Pretty much all my family here tonight,” McGregor said. “Scoring a goal in front of them makes me so proud.”

Inspired by international play

Cassie’s progress goes hand-in-hand with the impact that IIHF competition has had on women’s hockey in Dumfries. Mo Muir, chairperson and player coach for the Solway Ladies, the team that plays out of the Dumfries Ice Bowl, recalled how women’s hockey started following that U18 Women’s World Championship Division I Qualification tournament in the 2012/13 season.

“That first tournament is what started us off having a ladies’ team,” Muir said. “It showed there was interest among the folk who came along to watch and we started our first development sessions for women and girls off the back of that.

“Hopefully this year we’ll get more young girls coming in to watch it with their schools, or just coming along by themselves to watch the games. Maybe they’ll want to try it, they’ll we have development sessions each weekend and they’ll come along and give it a go. Then, if they commit to the development, they can move on to Solway Juniors and, at some point, to Solway Ladies.”

In the intervening decade, Dumfries also hosted a men’s U20 tournament in 2018, and a senior women’s event in 2019. The Dumfries Ice Bowl is getting used to staging international events, and that helps to promote hockey in the town.

McGregor was one of the youngsters who was hooked after coming to a tournament here and she’s conscious of the role that the current GB U18 roster has in inspiring the next generation. “I always came and watched [the international tournaments], we used to come on school trips,” she said. “When you’re young and you see people in your town, representing your country, it makes you dream of doing it yourself.

“Having the tournament here is brilliant for Dumfries again. We’re seeing a new generation of young girls looking up to us at this tournament, we see it in the emails and messages we get, in the requests for signed shirts and things.

“Suddenly we have girls looking up to us, wanting to follow us and do it themselves.”

An all-female program

McGregor learned her hockey in the Solway club (the name comes from the nearby Solway Firth, the estuary that forms part of the border between Scotland and England). With most female players in Scotland emerging from boys’ teams, Solway is unusual in that it runs a development program exclusively for women and girls. According to Muir, that makes a big difference, attracting players each week from Glasgow and Edinburgh, 75 miles to the north.

“The development sessions bring in local players, but we also have girls from boys’ teams and juniors elsewhere in Scotland,” Muir said. “They’re used to playing on a boys’ team but you really see a difference when they get on the ice and it’s only girls. Maybe sometimes they can get held back a bit in the boys’ game, especially if there are only one or two girls at a club, but here we see them really develop with the girls.

“Even with Cassie, I knew her from England U13s and I knew she was a real character but when she first came along to the ladies she was very shy, very quiet. Then, within a couple of weeks it all started coming back.”

Having a local girl represent GB is a big deal for the Solway club. “It’s absolutely amazing,” Muir added. “You could see from a very young age that she had something and she always made through the various Scotland age groups. There’s not many girls make it through that, but Cassie’s name always seemed to crop up.

“Now she’s definitely a role model here. The Solway juniors are into double figures with girls now and that’s big difference. I only remember one or two girls playing there before. Hopefully we can see even more after what Cassie has done.”

The next generation

Muir was the IIHF results manager for the recent U18 tournament and had four or five girls from the team volunteering alongside her. Suddenly, there are opportunities for youngsters to work on the shots on goal or plus / minus stats and to get a feel for what goes on behind the scenes at a tournament.

Then there are the schoolkids. In the lunchtime games, local primary schools are invited to come along and root for one of the teams. It’s a teachable moment, with kids choosing a nation to support, making flags and maybe learning a few words of their language. Young Scottish voices piping ‘¡Vamos México!’ generate a sense of atmosphere and energy not always found when the host nation is not in action.

And the excitement seems to be infectious. “There’s one wee girl came in today whose been coming to my development session,” Muir added. “All I could hear was somebody shouting ‘Mo! Mo!’. 

“She was so excited to be brought to a hockey game. It’s something that she’s enjoying and maybe now she can bring some of her friends to our next development session.”

And maybe, in 10 years’ time, she’ll be another Dumfries player making her childhood dreams come true in a GB jersey.
2023 IIHF Ice Hockey U18 Women's World Championship Division II Group A