Playoffs 2017 - Elite Semi-Final
Once again, the Women’s Trophy Weekend has been and gone, marking the end of another season of women’s hockey in the United Kingdom. We take a look back at how the Diamonds Elite secured their place at the weekend and what happened in their semi final vs Bracknell.
2 months prior to the Women’s Trophy Weekend, or the colloquially named ‘Playoffs’, the Diamonds elite team were sitting in 5th place in the WEL standings and were a long way off the pace in terms of qualifying for the playoffs.
An away double-header to Solihull and Guildford on 23rd and 24th June was the turning point for this team. With a very short bench they were hammered 7-1 by Solihull and beaten 3-0 by Guildford. This was a wake-up call for this team. Every single one of these girls has played at a high level and they all know what it takes to get anywhere in this game. From this point in the season, the girls grew together as a team and finally some of the magic started to show, starting with a thrilling 4-4 tie with Solihull the week after the 7-1 drubbing.
A week later a convincing 5-0 win over Swindon saw them closing the gap on 4th place and a vital 3-2 win over 4th placed Sheffield saw the Diamonds back in a playoff position. Two games vs league winners Bracknell unfortunately saw two losses but were important preparation against the team the Diamonds would ultimately face in the playoffs. Other results in the league confirmed the Diamonds playoff spot but they finished the regular season on a high with a 4-0 win over Swindon.
Off to Sheffield it was for a festival of women’s ice hockey.
At this point the Diamonds were confirmed to be taking on Bracknell Queen Bees in their semi-final, and, having not beaten Bracknell since the dawn of the WEL they knew it would be a tough test.
The Diamonds struggled to get off the mark in the first period, despite an early powerplay and Bracknell opened the scoring at 10.46. With CJ Ashton sitting in the penalty box after a soft holding call, Abbie Sylvester struck on the powerplay to give the Queen Bees the lead. Less than 2 minutes later Bracknell doubled their lead, as Natalie Aldridge scored at 12.12, assisted by GB captain Leanne Ganney. Bracknell pressured the Diamonds constantly through the rest of period, eventually outshooting them 26-6 and their work paid off as Rachel Cartwright made it 3-0 with a powerplay goal at 18.51, leaving the Diamonds with a huge mountain to climb.
The Diamonds came out with a much better start in the second, getting chances from the opening faceoff and limiting Bracknell to only a few of their own chances. Captain, Holly Cornford took matters into her own hands and got the Diamonds back into the game at 28.29 with a wonderful solo effort. She flew down the left wing, leaving the Bracknell defense stunned and backhanded the puck over Bracknell netminder, Relf, for an absolute worldie of a goal. A little over 10 minutes later, Kingston found themselves on the powerplay, Bracknell’s Alice Lamb sitting for two minutes for delaying of the game after an altercation in the corner and this time they made no mistake. Holly Cornford found Shannon Jones down near the goal line at the left of the Bracknell goal and Shannon fired a shot top-shelf from a hideous angle to put the game at 3-2.
You could see the excitement as the Diamonds regained belief that they could win this game.
They continued to press for a game tying goal and pinned Bracknell in their own zone for the majority of the third period, including 1.34 of 6 on 5 as they pulled netminder Holly Steeples for the extra attacker. Bracknell bent but they did not break and the Diamonds just couldn’t find another goal to force overtime and the game finished 3-2, with the Queen Bees securing their place in the final. Captain Holly Cornford, who led by example all game, picked up a well-deserved ‘Spirit of the Game’ for the Diamonds.
The girls should be extremely proud of how they performed in that game, down 3-0 after one period they could have crumbled but they showed awesome strength of character to pull it back and push the league winners right to the very end.
The last few months have been a real test of depth for the Diamonds and they’ve shown great resilience. This performance shows that they can compete right at the top again and they can really kick on from here, over summer and next season, and bring the trophy home next year!
Big thanks to Rob Hutchinson for the awesome photo!