The Women’s Irish National Team played their first game of the 2011 IIHF World Women’s Championship Division V in Sofia, Bulgaria earlier today. Poland was the opposition and they proved to be too much for Ireland in a game that Poland dominated from the opening face off.
Ireland has been waiting a long time for its Women’s team to take part in an IIHF Championship. Ever since the Dundalk Ice Dome first opened its doors in December 2006, there has been a core group of female players that have driven the Women’s side of the sport forward and helped it to be one of the more promising areas of Irish ice hockey in recent years. The local players of Dundalk, Dublin, Belfast, Kilkenny and more recently Galway, Cork and Tipperary have been supported in this drive by male and female players from Latvia, Slovakia, Czech Republic, USA, Canada and further. New and experienced players as well as coaches and officials have all thrown their hand in at helping to develop the Women’s game. Tournaments in Ireland, tournaments abroad as well as the number of female teams in Ireland tripling in three years all followed suit.
So to say that everyone was waiting eagerly in anticipation of this opening game against Poland was something of an underestimation. The butterflies were most certainly present in everyone but the early faceoff meant we didn’t have to wait too long! Unfortunately, Poland took an early lead when they scored even strength with only eighteen seconds gone on the clock. They then doubled their lead with only six minutes played before Keira Keenan of Ireland took a two minute penalty for interference. Poland added five more goals before the end of the period to make it 7 – 0 going into the first intermission. During that time, Ireland’s Aine Morris and Elaine McCann each took penalties for hooking and tripping respectively. It was always going to be a tough afternoon and the team was always going to be up against it but they needed to stay out of the penalty box to have any sort of chance. Poland quite simply dominated the opening period. They outshot Ireland 44 – 0. Seanna Conway had started in net for Ireland and made 37 saves in the opening twenty minutes alone.
The second period started off in much the same vain with Poland adding an eight goal just after a minute into the period. They added their ninth and tenth just before the clock hit twenty five minutes. Goals eleven and twelve followed shortly before Ireland took Conway out of the caldron of fire and in went Rebekah Burke. Conway had faced 72 shots in just under thirty one minutes of playing time. She had managed to stop 60 of those shots. Unfortunately for Burke, Poland did not let up at all. They added four more goals before the end of the second period to make it 16 – 0 going into the second intermission. Burke had played just over nine minutes in the second period but faced 17 shots in that time. Ireland was under constant pressure and the shot count says it all. Burke had managed to stop 13 of those shots. Ireland was simply up against a stronger, faster and more experienced team. They were expected to be strong but nobody could have expected them to be this strong.
The third period started off in a similar pattern to the first two with Poland scoring after thirty one seconds of play. They added another two goals within two minutes of that before Ireland started something of a fight back. For the next eight minutes, Ireland withheld any pressure that Poland put on them. This was despite Keenan going to the penalty box for tripping. She was soon followed to the box by Sonya McEneaney who was penalised for tripping. Even though, Poland were gifted two powerplays to add to their already impressive tally, Ireland did not concede and put it to Poland for a considerable amount of time. Unfortunately, Ireland were not able to keep this up and Poland did find the back of the net another four times before the end of the game to make it a final score of 23 – 0 in favour of Poland.
A tough afternoon for the team no doubt but like the U18 Irish National Team, it is important not to focus on the result but the performance and concentre on the positives. First, considering the circumstances that ice hockey in Ireland finds itself at the moment, just like the U18 Irish National Team, it is an achievement in itself that the team has travelled and is actually competing in the tournament. That is an achievement and one that everyone involved in Irish ice hockey over the last number of years should be proud of. On top of that, the team today faced a better team in what is probably their first ever full game and at stages they showed that they can play at this level.
They have solid goalkeeping in both goalkeepers and they will bring the best out of one another. Ireland stopped 110 shots out of 133 today and more of the same will be needed in the remaining games this week. At stages, the team kept Poland at bay and this concentration will be needed for longer periods in the remaining games. However, they will need to cut back on the number of penalties that they take. Ireland went to the penalty box on seven separate occasions to Poland’s two. Although not the reason the team lost today, it puts unnecessary pressure on them throughout game. The other positive is that team managed six shots on goal in the final two periods and if they continue to plug away then the chances and goals will come.
Special congratulations go to Rebecca Callan who was selected as Ireland’s best player. Rebecca was one of Ireland’s leading forwards and is one of the brightest youngsters to come out of the junior ranks in Dundalk. She’ll be a player to watch for the remainder of the tournament.
Final Score: Poland 23 – 0 Ireland (7 – 0, 9 – 0, 7 – 0)
SOG: 133 – 6 (44 – 0, 45 – 3, 44 – 3)
PIM: 4 – 14 (0 – 6, 2 – 0, 2 – 8)
Saves: S. Conway (60/72), R. Burke (50/61) – J. Katarzynska-Goj (3/3), M. Burda (3/3)