10th October 2015
The day had finally arrived! After seeing it advertised on social media I had been super excited to hear that the Belfast Junior Giants were taking part in the IIHF Girl’s Day and that it would be held at the SSE Arena. I contacted the lovely Kate Morrison who was in charge of the event, thinking that I would just be volunteering. Next thing I knew I was told to bring skates, gloves and a stick….I was going to be taking part in the event!
I awoke with excitement and also a bunch of nerves. Making my way down to the arena the nerves grew and grew. It wasn’t until I got into the arena that I began to calm down. Arriving into one of the away team locker rooms I was greeted with the sight of lots of equipment and lots of girls, all of whom were very friendly and chatty, and very willing to help me out.
Kate helped me pick out a helmet that would fit my wee head and I was then helped with picking a stick that would suit my size (a feat in itself as I’m quite small). Even just being given a stick was scary, I’ve only ever skated down at the ice bowl, I have never wore or attempted to wear any equipment.
Suited up we walked down the away tunnel, a daunting feat when you imagine what it is like on game night, and onto the bench we went to watch the Zamboni clean the ice. The feeling of coming out through the door wearing a helmet, gloves and gripping a stick was something I won’t forget. It took me a couple of minutes to figure out how to hold the stick whilst skating, trying to memorise what the players did on game night and soon I started to feel a bit more comfortable and relaxed.
We got about 10/15 minutes to free skate around the arena and warm up as such before Assistant Coach Rob Stewart called us over for a pep talk.
We were then spilt into groups and there was 4 different areas in which we would be visiting during this training time. The first was agility, the second was puck handling, the third was puck handling and skating and the fourth you played a 3 on 3 match.
Our group started out with Rob on agility. This was the area I wanted to get over and done with first, with low stamina and not much puff, I was dreading how much the agility would take out of me but it was actually quite useful and technical. Challenges such as C-Cuts, 360 turns and more kept me on my toes, literally, I believe I fell over once but I attempted everything that was asked and will practice them more so now that I know what is expected.
A little bit out of breath it was then over to puck-handling. Again another pretty awesome moment was being told to get a puck and keep it in the circle. I believe I had another fall in this group as another group member couldn’t stop in time and went face first into my stomach (she was only a wee tote) and it sent both of us to the ice. Awk well back up again and back to keeping the puck in the circle. I think that was one of the hardest things, learning how to control the puck, skating at the same time and keeping your head up. I was sitting there thinking, how the hell does Chris Higgins do all that tricksy stuff! I couldn’t even keep it on the end of my stick for a minute without losing it.
Then it was time for a water break, thank gosh! I was a bit out of breath so it was back to the locker room for a while and then out again for the next two challenges. The first of which was puck handling and skating. As there was some in the group including myself that were unable to stop we were allowed to do it without the puck, this including circling the stoppers, stopping at each stopping and skating in between each stopper. This was quite fun and I wish we had got more time on it, I really do need to learn how to stop though.
Then it was onto the mini game 3 vs 3, one side had the goalie for the first half and then it would switch. For a mini game it was pretty intense! Couple of us went into the plexi (yes Claire looking at you) and again I think I fell twice, but it was so much fun. I unfortunately didn’t get to take any shots at the goalie but I did score my own goal at the other end, even if no one saw it. Picture evidence below 😀 :
By this point I was dying, you really don’t know how much even just training takes out of you, and for someone who doesn’t really exercise, it was tough going. I sat down at the bench and the sweat was pouring off me, my nose was running and i was roasted! Instead of going back to the lockeroom I sat and watched all the other girls on the ice mess about, taking shots, skating and practicing.
Then it was….
Yup a full match with shifts! We had two lines on each bench, I was in second line and I stuck to playing back in defense for most of the game as I’m not the strongest skater. The game was so much fun and it was amazing to have the feeling of playing on a team, changing lines and having a bit of fun. I believe it was a tie in the end and no overtime was played.
I just want to say a big thank you to Kate Morrison and everyone else who helped organise the day, to the coaches that came out to help us, to all the girls who came to try it out, for the junior giant girls who were extremely patient with us new comers and helped us out as much as possible, and to the SSE arena for the use of the ice. The day overall was fantastic and it really gives you more of a sense about ice hockey, the determination you have to have, the heart and the passion that you play with and how damn hard it is to multitask sometimes. You gotta put everything into it, you fall down you get back up, you skate hard and fast, and you try your best.
This opportunity only comes once a year, but I wouldn’t miss it for the world. If you are really considering Ice Hockey as a sport, or you love it and would like to try it out and see if it’s suited for you or just have a bit of fun, this event is definitely not one to miss. It was well run and it really does let you see what it’s like to play the sport and if you are suited to it. All the girls are super friendly and no one gets left out. It is open to all ages and equipment is provided if you don’t have any gear.
If you noticed in one of my earlier posts, one of my bucketlist items on my ice hockey bucketlist was to play ice hockey. Not only did I think this would happen, but to be able to play on the ice that the Belfast Giants play on was definitely something I never imagined would happen.
I have so much respect for the professional players, as I sit aching today I can’t imagine how they feel after playing hard fought matches or Double Headers on the road. It is unbelievable the toll it takes on you.
So to Kate thanks for making this possible for so many girls, to the IIHF Girls Day Belfast Girls, you girls are awesome! To Alan and Nicky thank you for taking some amazing photographs and giving us all something to remember the day with. Here’s to the next IIHF Girl’s Day 2016 in Belfast, I can’t wait!