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Oxford Women’s Blues defy the odds at National Championships

History was made at the division 1 non-checking National Championships in Sheffield this year. The Oxford Women’s Blues brought a roster of just 7 skaters and 2 goalies (due to unfortunate scheduling) and yet proved that they compete with the best division 1 non-checking teams. The ladies topped their group and narrowly lost to former champions Northumbria Kings B.

Leading up to the tournament, the Blues had finished second in the league competition and were ranked as fourth in the power rankings among all ten teams. It was clear from the start that the competition would be tough evident when there were more coaches on the bench than players. Despite the odds, the Blues opened their account with a 1-1 draw against the well-drilled Sheffield Bears C.  Of particular note was the destructive play of Canadian veteran Lisa Choi who rocked two Sheffield players in what can only be described as thoroughly clearing your own zone – later commented by the Captain Linda Perkiö as the proudest moment of her life. Regardless, two points were within reach and areas of improvement were noted and preached ready for the second fixture just 90 minutes later.

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Caption: The Blues wait for their next fixture

This fixture was set to be an entertaining game as the opponents Bradford Sabres B had made the step-up from division 2 after a 100% win record and boasting a number of top goal scorers. However, the Blues exemplar team play and game strategy paid dividends with a number of defensive takeaways and stretch passes to the forwards.  After a great individual effort by Choi to draw a penalty shot, the Blues were unfortunate to not open the scoring on this one on one. However, Bradford could not hold back the tide of dark blue with former Yale Varsity athlete Jennifer Lawrence netting a breakaway with the assist deservedly going to accomplished figure skater Park “Ellie” HyunSeo who was solely responsible for generating the scoring opportunity. A second goal by Lawrence saw the crowd go crazy – a fan base that quickly grew to realise that this Blues team was dominant and not the underdog originally thought by many. During the latter stages of the game, Bradford poured on the pressure around the Oxford goal, which led to a controversial swing of the stick to the helmet of the Oxford goalie Kate Koch. The scrum that erupted around the Oxford goal led to, surprisingly, Oxford’s standout goaltender to be chucked from the game with no equivalent penalty given to the offender. After a long discussion with the referee about the rules of the sport, it was clear that the decision would have to be taken the league committee and the match to be played out by Oxford’s other solid netminder Stephanie Clarke. Bradford managed to claw a goal back after a scramble in front of goal but the resilient defence and the fresh-legged Clarke kept the Sabres at bay resulting in a 2-1 dark blue win putting them at the top of the table.

Despite the positive atmosphere in the locker room, news that second generation OUIHC forward Charlotte Cato would not be returning after a blocked shot during the first game, only proved to motivate the ladies further after seeing the dedication shown by the baby of the team, affectionately known as “Cato”. Subsequently, the Dark Blue would close the first day with a second victory, this time over Coventry and Warwick Panthers B, the 2011 BUHIA division 3 champions. The tone was set early by Oxford’s powerplay unit of Lawrence, Choi, rookie Andrea Francisco, alumnus Ioana Gagea and Captain Linda Perkiö whose slapshot from the blue line, after a great feed from Choi, blew past the Panther’s goalie for the powerplay tally. Two more goals by Lawrence secured the win and Oxford’s place in a semi-final spot.

 

On the night the teams headed out for the annual BUIHA non-checking division social with this year’s theme being “dress as your team”. This fell in the favour of certain teams such as the Newcastle Wildcats, Imperial Devils and UCL Yetis, however, costumes proved difficult for the Manchester Metrostars, UEA Avalanche and Southampton Spitfires. The Oxford team dressed as Rosie the Riveter – consistent with their recruitment campaign of the past several seasons.

After an intense first day, both on and off the ice, the ladies were more or less ready to hit the final day of the tournament hard. However, due to vast number of teams and therefore the odd scheduling, the Blues were not due to play until later in the day. Knowing that finishing top of the table was guaranteed, the team played a conservative game in their last group fixture against Birmingham Lions C dropping it 1-0.

Minds remained focused on the semi-final match-up, which turned out to be against Northumbria Kings B much to the disappointment of a number of individuals who were anticipating a re-match against league opponents Imperial Devils B. Northumbria, who boasted ridiculous stats from their scorers in the league as well as a large bench, opened the scoring. However, after JLaw’s one-timer shot rang off the inside of the post, much to the disappointment of the crowd, her second attempt moments later saw the puck ring off the pipe for a second time but this time into the back of the net – 1-1. The King’s shooters continued to pepper the Oxford goal but former MIT Men’s goalie Kate Koch stood tall and made save after save. It wasn’t until the latter half of the game that the scoring resumed with another two quick goals, one apiece. Jenn Lawrence again stepping up as a natural leader and splitting the Northumbria defence and slotting the puck into the net for the tying goal after a dirty dangle. Entering the last 2 minutes of play, a dubious delay of game penalty against the dark blue saw the King’s covert for the game-winning goal. Despite a last ditch effort, the game finished 4-2 with an empty net goal.

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Caption: The Oxford Women’s Blues National Championship Team

Northumbria secured their third division 1 non-checking title in as many years with a 3-0 display against Imperial College Devils B in the final. The tournament had certainly been a successful one for the ladies in dark blue, demonstrating that they are one of the best non-checking university teams in the country despite participating in a male-dominated league. The future is certainly bright for the ladies of the OUIHC with a number of players returning for the next academic season, the pressure is certainly on the rest of the league to keep up with what is anticipated as another winning season for the OUIHC Women’s Blues.

Stay tuned on twitter @OUIHCMensBlues as the university men’s Blues take on the best in the country at the division 1 checking National Championships on April 25th and 26th.