Not About Winning

14/04/2009 at 6:30 AM | Posted in English | Leave a comment

Story by: Michael Sundsten
Photos by: Leeni Pellinen

The whole team stands up on the bench for the entire game. One forward with longer hair than others battles behind the opponent’s net. Her plait sways as she takes on another hit from the physical Kiekko-Vantaa defenseman. She isn’t going to dodge him in the corner. The only girl on the ice, Louise Durrell dishes out a hit for a hit on the Kiekko-Vantaa boys dressed in blue on her next shift.

“We have a great spirit on our team. We never give up”, explains the headcoach Brian Biddulph of the Southeast Conference team from Great Britain.

The first ten minutes of the game, the levels are quite even. Soon the gap between the British and the Finnish junior hockey starts to show. Kiekko-Vantaa scores the shutout ending first strike, it’s 0-1. After that the game is played mostly at the other end, in the Brits defensive zone. The Turku Tournament game for 14- and 15-year-olds ends in a devastating 0-9 win in favour of Kiekko-Vantaa.

Poor Circumstances

The Brits aren’t here to complain. Their on a journey that is bigger than hockey itself. For some it’s the first time on an airplane and abroad. Not every member of the team could even make the tournament trip. It all comes down to money. Some talented young hockey devotees have had to give up the expensive sport.

“The lack of money and sponsorship makes this self-funded all the way”, coach Biddulph tells as a background.

Hockey is more popular in northern Britain, because of the bigger arenas. As for in the southeast, where Biddulph’s players take the ice, the facilities are a lot worse. Some arenas are decent, but they have chicken net instead of acrylic glass. The rinks are also many times half the size. The coaching as well is organized in the cheapest possible manner. Quite a few teams are coached by parents, who have passed the necessary exams.

“These players have practice only 1,5 hours a week. We have no superstars on our roster”, Biddulph continues.

In Britain the winters won’t enable any natural ice time outdoors. Therefore some compete in roller hockey as a method for keeping up the knack.

The Carefree Team

Sixty spectators shiver while watching the junior game at the Kupittaa arena’s second rink. The Southeast Conference team is a lot more mixed when it comes to the player’s size. K-Vantaa is more homogenous.

Before the game the tournament’s Finnish liaison for the team, Kai Puonti gave Biddulph some hints about the opposing team’s skill-level, since they had no clue in advance.

Mr. Biddulph hollers his instructions for his team in an advisable tone. As the Southeast Conference draw a penalty and are forced on the penalty kill it seems like it’s their first time around. Biddulph pulls Durrell aside and tells how to skate in the own zone.

Southeast Conference’s players Louise Durrell, the man-sized Jack Burton and the small, but swift Steven Woodford really enjoy the sport.

“It’s so fun, fast and rough”, Durrell argues.

There is no hitting in women’s ice hockey and as few years go by the level of physicality takes over against boys. Louise can’t continue with them forever. She doesn’t seem too dissatisfied.

“I probably go on playing football then”, she states with a smile.

The team’s first line center and perhaps the best skater, Steven Woodford takes part in the tournament already for the fifth time. His talented skating is a result of eager training.

“I started hockey at the age of five”, Steven reminisces.

“I like the physical side of the game”, contemplates Jack Burton, the big defenseman in the line-up.

He got called for kneeing during the game, but regardless plays a clean and fair brand of hockey.

The team arrived at the arena by bus appearing very excited to get the chance to play in the tournament. They tried their best, but there weren’t too many mournful faces after the blowout loss to Kiekko-Vantaa. It was time for a meal at the arena’s cafeteria.

“No time for sight-seeing”

The group landed at the Helsinki-Vantaa airport on Thursday and was royally exhausted. Having prepared for the tournament with too practice games, the players assembled from London, Peterborough and Slough among other cities were picked from half a dozen clubs for the trip. The management consisted of two coaches and the manager for the junior national team, Pauline Rost.

“We’re on a tight schedule, five games in three days”, Rost tells as she teases the players, when it’s her turn to be interviewed.

The team with a cheerful attitude has participated in the Turku Tournament for 15 years already. After five games with seven goals scored and 36 against they left Finland on Monday.

Stats aside. Hockey is a great way for socialising people, making them learn to take others in consideration and working as a group towards a common goal.

“This team moves as a bunch throughout the event and we really bond”, coach Biddulph agrees.

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