Photo credit: Clara Ashton/Ice Hockey UK
Over the past few years, the South Coast Women’s Hockey League (SCWHL) has attracted Canadian athletes who have played in the NCAA and U Sports women’s hockey leagues, the CWHL, and various European leagues. This past season the SCWHL gained one of Great Britain’s national team players.
Clara (CJ) Ashton, a 20 year old forward from England, moved to Vancouver, Canada for a year through her University’s exchange program. The university she attended in Vancouver, Kwantlen Polytechnic University, does not have a women’s hockey team, so after some help from Ice Hockey UK, Ashton got connected with the SCWHL and the Trinity Western University Titans.
Ashton attended tryouts for the Titans, and her hard work ethic helped her get a spot on the team. She played 22 games with Trinity Western over the 2017-18 season, notching three goals and four assists.
“She brought a lot of leadership and hard work ethic away from the rink too,” said Trinity Western head coach Thomas Koshman, who praised not just the way Ashton worked hard on the ice, but the way in which she worked hard off the ice as well.
“You could see the attention to detail that she brought to practice. She was an example of what you need to do to take things to the next level,” Koshman said of having a player with experience playing on the international stage on the team.
Photo credit: Clara Ashton/Ice Hockey UK
Ashton is one of just two players in the SCWHL who have played in an IIHF event, the other being North Shore Rebels player Bianca Cuevas, who is from the Philippines and has represented her country at the IIHF Challenge Cup of Asia.
“I think it has been a slightly different game over here,” Ashton said of playing in Canada. “I have found this league to be a lot more physical. Playing over here has allowed me to gain more experience and a different style of play.”
Prior to playing in Canada, Ashton played with both women’s and men’s teams in England. She has been a member of the Kingston Diamonds women’s club, which is based in Hull, since the 2012-13 season. Ashton started out by playing with the Kingston U16 team before playing with both of the clubs’ women’s teams, which currently compete in the two highest women’s leagues in England, the English Women’s Elite League and English Women’s Premier League.
In the 2016-17 season, Ashton made her senior men’s hockey debut in the National Ice Hockey League North 2 with the Altrincham Aces. She has also played in the England U20, U18 and U16 leagues.
“I ended up starting hockey because my older brothers played it,” said Ashton. “My mom wanted me to do figure skating so I had figure skating lessons and I realized I didn’t like the toe pick or the twirls. So I took up hockey when I was around four, just at stick and puck sessions, and my brothers helped me along the way.”
Ashton made her international debut with Great Britain’s U18 national team at the 2014 IIHF Division I Women’s U18 World Championship. She has been a mainstay of their national program ever since, making one more appearance on the U18 team in 2015 before making her senior debut at the World Championships in 2016. She notched her first international points in 2016 as well, with four goals and two assists in five games.
Photo credit: Phil Mony/SCWHL
This April, Great Britain’s women’s ice hockey team came one win away from winning the IIHF Division II Group A Women’s World Championship and returning to Division I Group B for the first time since 2013. Great Britain has been close to promotion for a few years now; in 2016 they were in a three way tie for first with Poland and South Korea, but after tiebreakers ended up ranked third.
Great Britain had wins against Australia, North Korea, Mexico and Slovenia in the 2018 tournament, but could not score against the Netherlands, who secured the gold medal and promotion to the next division with a 4-0 win over Great Britain.
“We did have a good tournament, but unfortunately we were aiming for gold,” said Ashton. “Although we got a silver medal, it was really hard loosing that gold medal game. We had a really solid team dynamic this year and when the chips were down, we played for each other … We didn’t win, but we had a great team and played a really good tournament.”
The silver medal may sting for the time being, but good things are happening for women’s hockey in Great Britain, with the women’s leagues increasing in competitiveness and female players such as Ashton gaining experience playing in countries like Canada.
“I personally feel like the game in the UK is growing, and also its awareness,” said Ashton. “There’s a lot more young girls getting involved with the sport, which is great, and there’s national programs that they can get involved in from a younger age now.”