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The IIHF Ambassador and Mentor Program Paying Off

After months of preparation, training and hard work, I can’t believe that our 2012 World Championships are finally over. And wow, what a tournament it was. With teams from France, Denmark, Netherlands, Italy, China, and of course our GB girls all descending on Hull to fight it out on the ice to claim gold and the all important promotion to IIHF World Women’s Division 1A.

For those of you of a gambling disposition, it must have been quite a tough one to call, with some wonderfully open and often unpredictable games and some superb Hockey being played by every nation. It was so close in fact, that all the final results, including the medal places were called on goal difference and not points as is usually the case! We’re still trying to work it out, but this could be the first year this has ever happened in any IIHF division….calling all IIHF stats guru’s, it would be fantastic to know whether this is the case!

So, with the results so close to call, why should this year be so different? And not just in our division I may add, but across the board in. At the same time as our tournament in Hull, the World Division was taking place in Burlington, USA. Here Switzerland took their first ever IIHF World Championship medal winning Bronze after defeating Finland 6-2!  Newly promoted Germany retained their World Championship status and there were 12 one goal games overall! Earlier in the tournament USA beat Canada with a thumping score of 9-2. Canada did however go on to win the Gold in overtime to take over the number 1 spot in the World. In Division 1A, there were some equally unexpected results with Kazakhstan being relegated to 1B for 2013 and the Czech Republic, who played in Division 1B against us in 2011 securing their 2nd promotion on the bounce, an amazing achievement! Having worked with Czech Republic last year at the IIHF High Performance Camp in Bratislava I know the energy & determination going into their program, and it’s awesome to see it paying off!

So, what’s changed in Women’s Hockey to make it so close to call this year?  As you may or may not be aware, last year the IIHF introduced the Ambassador and Mentor Program (AMP) bringing the top 13 nations into most comprehensive IIHF women’s hockey development initiative so far. Mentors and ambassadors from the top four countries have been assisting women’s programs in nine other countries.  The IIHF Ambassador and Mentor Program (AMP) has created partnerships between some of the world’s best women’s hockey coaches and athletes and countries that are striving to develop elite women’s hockey programs.

By facilitating and encouraging these teams to share their knowledge and experience, it was hoped that the whole Women’s game could be encouraged to develop and move forward from the days of some countries constantly dominating the sport while the rest of us just sat by in envy.

And do you know what, looking at the overall results across the top 3 Divisions I think it has worked. Great Britain are not yet in the AMP program but we were competing against 2 teams who are, France (mentored by Canada & Finland) & China (mentored by USA & Finland) In our game against China, a 2010 Olympic  team, we held our own. We were eventually defeated 3-0 but that is a score that we can be proud of against such a formidable team, and again, in our game against Denmark, we held a 2-0 lead for the first 2 periods against the eventual Gold medalists.

So I’m sure we can all ask what we could have done better last week, and with any performance there is room for improvement. Did we have a chance to win those games? Yes, I believe we did, but despite of the challenges we faced this year, the team pulled together to convincingly beat the Netherlands 6-0 taking us into 4th place and gaining us an ever valuable world ranking point pushing us to our highest world ranking ever of 17th place, a result we are incredibly proud of.

So with such an amazing development going on in International hockey I’m sure it gets us all thinking, how, like the IIHF, can we develop our game here in the UK so that we can compete against the big girls? Not just with GB at the international level but at a much closer, grass roots level. We have some wonderful talent here in the UK, just look at the GB Under 18’s performance this season!! and look at the league standings from this years EIHA Women’s Premier League where it’s currently too close to call with new teams emerging to the top level of the game!

What we have here in the UK is a wonderful store of talent and experience. It’s so important to encourage that talent and to dream big! Encouraging and supporting those that want to take our game further, and then in a couple of years time it will be GB standing there claiming gold and the ever important promotion to Div 1A!

For those looking to follow our progress, next years Division 1B is a formidable group: Kazakhstan, France, China, Great Britain, Netherlands and DPR North Korea.

So what’s up next for us? Usually at the end of a Championship week we know our next International game will be at next years World Championships but this year is different. 8th-11th November 2012 sees us traveling to the Olympic Qualifiers. We won’t know where we’re going or who we’re competing against until May when the IIHF Congress meets, but one thing I can tell you….we are totally ready & committed to build on our solid performance in this Division!

Finally, I’d just like to add a huge thank you to everybody who made this World Championships happen here in Britain – it was amazing to be competing here at home. To Ice Hockey UK, to all the tournament organizers & volunteers whose smiling faces greeted us every day. To all the staff at Hull Ice Arena, the City of Hull  for welcoming us so warmly to their city and most of to all those friends, family and supporters (a special shout out to our GB Supporters Club friends too!!) who gave up their time to come and cheer us on. See you next time!!


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