Bracknell and Manchester were the big winners at the 2015 Women’s Trophy Weekend – the traditional end of season showpiece for the EIHA Womens Section in Sheffield. Bracknell won the Womens Premier League and U16 Finals while Manchester lifted the Division One Trophy
The Womens Premier League, Division 1 and U16 Girls all have their national finals at the event which brings together the best players and teams in the country.
Division 1 North champions Manchester Phoenix, making their Trophy Weekend debut in just their second season of operation, received a boost of a bye in their semi final after scheduled opponents Invicta Dynamics were unable to raise a team due to injuries.
The other semi final saw D1 South champions Swindon Topcats take on Whitley Squaws. The Topcats won their division with a perfect 16-0 record, scoring 148 while conceding just 14. Whitley – who won the D1 trophy three years in a row before losing out last year – lost two of their opening three games before going unbeaten from mid November and qualifying for the weekend.
Whitley opened the scoring just 2.36 into the game as Steph Towns fired past Rachel Pullen in the Swindon net. The lead, though, lasted just 61 seconds before Ashleigh Loftus-Thorne netted the equaliser for Topcats. That remained the score until late in the second session, Sarah Rouse scoring for Swindon at 38.15 to put them ahead at the second break.
Great Britain defenceman Helen Emerson was on hand in the 47th minute to score the game’s second equaliser and the Squaws, who would dominate the third period shot count 15-6, sensed their opportunity. When Squaws went to the powerplay with 12 minutes remaining you sensed a goal would be crucial – and so it proved, but not in the net you’d expect! Swindon’s PK turned over the powerplay and Anne-Sheralie Chilcott set up Rebecca Da Cova for the shorthanded goal at 50.24. Three minutes later, Swindon captain Rebecca Inker netted an unassisted goal to open a two-goal cushion.
Whitley pulled goalie Jessica Kinghorn with three minutes on the clock and pressed for a goal to get back into the game, but Pullen and the Topcats held out to take their place in the final 24 hours later.
So it was to the Premier semi finals which saw Bracknell Queen Bees take on Solihull Vixens, while Kingston Diamonds faced Sheffield Shadows.
The QBs had clinched their fourth consecutive WPL title a couple of weeks earlier, and added the Elite Cup so they were in search of a domestic treble for the first time. Solihull saw off Guildford Lightning and Slough Phantoms to finish in the top four for the first time in four years.
For Kingston, they lost the League on the head to head with Bracknell – both sides finishing 13-1 from their schedule – but had won the Bill Britton Trophy as playoff champions for the last three years. Sheffield were making another welcome return to postseason, losing only to the sides above them in the standings.
Bracknell were just too good for the Vixens in the first semi final. Two goals in the first 2.03 set the tone and a shot count of 54-10 showed the difference between the sides. Tamara Donaghue in the Vixens net made 47 saves to keep the champions at bay for long periods but Leanne Ganney’s hat-trick lead the way for the Bees. Solihull’s Martina Krupkova denied Sam Bonathan a shutout with a well taken strike four minutes from time and a final score of 7-1.
Kingston’s semi against Sheffield was a much closer affair, with the home town Shadows working hard to match their opponents stride for stride. Lauren Wilkinson opened the scoring for Kingston in the 12th minute, only for Saffron Allen to level with a well taken breakaway goal for Sheffield.
Shadows’ Lorna Beresford netted at 37.36 and Sheffield threatened an upset. Kingston’s special teams went to work and a powerplay strike from Wilkinson for hers – and Kingston’s – second goal tied things up with eleven minutes to play.
With spectators and officials no doubt brushing up on the overtime rules, Diamonds Kirsten Deighton found a way past Holly Steeples in the Shadows net, before Shannon Jones put the icing on the cake with a fourth goal 91 seconds from time, giving Kingston a 4-2 win and another showdown with the Queen Bees.
Sunday’s “Finals Day” began with Sheffield defeating Solihull 4-1 in the Premier third place playoff.
The weekend’s first Final was the u16 Girls Final between Bracknell Ice Bees and Kingston Diamonds. Bracknell had seen off Swindon, Haringey and Oxford in the Southern Girls league, while Kingston won out in a three-game series against Sheffield in the Northern division.
Much like their senior team, the Ice Bees netted two early goals – Emily Harris with a double at 2.45 and 4.38 – only for the Diamonds to level before the first interval; Sophie Campbell and Casey Traill the Kingston scorers.
Harris completed her hattrick early in the middle period, but again Kingston equalised again through Rachel Eadie. Abbie Sylvester (22.48 PP) gave the Ice Bees a 4-3 lead at the second break, and they broke the game open with another pair early in the final frame with Harris and Louise Beresford.
Casey Traill netted her second for Kingston with just over five minutes to play, reducing the arrears to 6-4, but Bracknell had the final word with Ellie Wakeling completing the scoring at 41.37 and giving Bracknell the u16 championship for the first time since 2010.
The Division One Trophy Final saw the respective League champions go head to head – Manchester who had a rest day on the Saturday against unbeaten Swindon.
In a cagey first period, Swindon edged the shot count 13-11 but it was the Phoenix who scored the only goal of the period – captain Charlene Chapman on target at 12.38.
Goals had not been a problem for Swindon in league play, but they were up against Steph Drinkwater in top form between the pipes for Manchester. Topcats pressure finally paid off with two goals in the middle frame to turn the tie around. First Rebecca Da Cova lit the lamp at 26.45, before skipper Rebecca Inker scored a solo effort at 33.29 and Swindon had the lead.
A powerplay blast from the blueline from the stick of Katie Hills restored parity at 35.25 for Manchester, and Swindon then had to survive two further penalties including 89 seconds of five on three. Survive they did, and the D1 Final went into the third period all square.
Swindon created the better chances in period three, but Drinkwater again was up to the task – making 14 saves in the period and a total of 35 in the match. Deep in the final stages of regulation, less than three minutes from time, Phoenix forward Leen De Decker had the chance and made no mistake to put Manchester 3-2 ahead. After a timeout, Swindon had a couple of abortive attempts to pull their goalie and time ran out on a Phoenix win, completing a League and Trophy double in just their second season.
Trophy Weekend’s final game was the Premier Division meeting between Bracknell and Kingston, playing for the Bill Britton Trophy. Bill was Chairman of the EIHA womens section until his sudden death in 2005.
Bracknell have won the WPL league for the past four seasons but have been unable to add a playoff crown, Kingston on the other hand are postseason specialists with three straight Trophy wins under their belt.
After a cagey opening spell, Bracknell took the upper hand which they never really relinquished. Powerplay chances for each side came and went, but when it looked like being a scoreless first period, the QBs broke the deadlock at 19.05 when Natalie Aldridge scored from a rebound.
Milan Overton had a helper on the first goal, and she turned provider again two minutes into the middle frame to set up Leanne Ganney to shoot past Nicole Jackson for 2-0 at 22.38.
Kingston were only able to generate seven shots in the first two periods and their frustration began to show in a series of minor penalties, with the Queen Bees powerplay taking advantage. First Jessica Curtis was on hand at the top of the crease to score a PPG at 37.27 for 3-0, then Kimberley Lane at 43.49 again on the man advantage to round out the scoring at 4-0.
Bracknell took three minors after their fourth goal but Kingston could not capitalise, Sam Bonathan recording a 14-shot shut out in the Final and the Queen Bees completing their first domestic treble of WPL, Elite Cup and Bill Britton Trophy.
After the game, Bracknell head coach Paul Burton said: “After missing out in the Final recently we’re delighted to get the job done today and win the treble.
“I feel we’ve greater strength in depth and we used that well to keep going at Kingston and never giving them any respite. Nicole is a great goalie, and she’ll save the first shot but not necessarily the second or third. We pressured her really well tonight and got the rewards.
“We’re desperately disappointed that the champions aren’t entered into the Champions Cup for next season, it’s a great step up and gives the players an idea of the level they need to reach to compete at international level. We rolled three strong lines today, the European teams have four top quality lines and more besides.”
Burton also reflected on the u16 title for the Ice Bees, saying: “I think in age group hockey it’s very cyclical – the past few seasons we have been the younger and less experienced side comparted to Kingston. This year I think that balance changed.
“It was a great game – as it always is – and there’s still more from these girls. Emily who scored the hat-trick is only 13 and has been with us for a while. We have more girls coming through at eight and nine so the future is looking very good.”
The Womens Trophy Weekend continued the fundraising which started at Conference Weekend in support of Teenage Cancer Trust and the final total is in excess of £6,500. A final total will be announced in due course.
PHOTOS: ROB HUTCHINSON used with permission