Round-up | WNIHL Finals

There were league and play-off doubles aplenty in Sheffield last weekend as the England Ice Hockey women’s leagues brought the curtain down on their season with a showpiece Finals Weekend.

No fewer than 13 games featuring 15 clubs took place over three days, culminating in four Championship Finals being played on the Sunday.

Action faced off on Friday afternoon with U16 semi-finals.  North league champions Whitley Bay Beacons were edged out by London Capitals in the first game, before south league champions Chelmsford Rattlesnakes defeated Sheffield Shadows to book their place in Sunday’s final.

The last game on Friday was the Elite League promotion play-off featuring WNIHL1 champions Swindon Topcats, who went head-to-head with sixth-placed Elite side Streatham Storm.  Swindon threatened an upset with a first-minute goal from Ellie Wallace but the established Elite League side rebounded – with the help of two short-handed goals on the same penalty kill – and retained their place in the top division. Swindon would have other business to attend to over the weekend.

First up on Saturday’s schedule was the WNIHL1 semi between Kingston Diamonds and Bristol Huskies, who finished 2nd and 3rd respectively in the end of season standings.  After an even first period, the Diamonds scored three without reply in the middle frame on their way to a 5-2 win and a place in Sunday’s final.

WNIHL1 champions Swindon were up next in their second appearance of the weekend, facing the Firebees.  It was a close affair ending 2-0 to the champions, Mali Easton posting the shut-out and booking an appointment with Kingston on Sunday.

Before you knew it, we were into the Elite League semi-finals – Solihull Vixens against Guildford Lightning was first on the slate and it did not disappoint.  With Vixens leading 1-0 after 40 minutes the final period opened up and saw thrilling end to end play.

Guildford tied the game and then, with less than three minutes to play, Alice Jones scored on a breakaway to put Lightning ahead. Solihull hit straight back inside 30 seconds, and despite more chances, regulation time expired tied at 2-2.

Sudden-victory over-time played 3-on-3 followed, and Solihull had the breakthrough – Katie Henry open at the top of the crease waited for Mali Easton to commit in net before lifting the puck to the roof of the net and taking the win.

Elite League champions Queen Bees followed in their semi-final against Kingston Diamonds and were on the board inside five minutes through Abbie Sylvester.  Katherine Gale doubled the lead on the half hour before Meeyah Forbes netted for Kingston to halve the deficit at the second break.

The final frame saw Kingston pressure the QBs net but finding Amelia McGinley in top form, and it stayed 2-1 at the final buzzer and Queen Bees were up for the Championship game.

Saturday’s action closed with WNIHL2 semi finals and the first appearance of two clubs in their debut season – Caledonia Steel Queens and Cambridge Kodiaks.

Caledonia, who won the WNIHL2 North, opened the scoring on two minutes with a shot through traffic, only for Cambridge to level in the final minute of the period for 1-1.  The second and third periods were full-on with special teams aplenty and strong five minute PK from the Steel Queens, but both defences held out and it was our second OT game of the day.

The bonus hockey lasted just under two minutes before Jess Bridger’s wrist shot lit the lamp for Steel Queens and sent them to the Final.

The last game of the day was between Cardiff Comets and Telford Wrekin Raiders.  Comets – champions of the WNIHL2 South – had the better of early exchanges and added goals at regular intervals and were 3-0 ahead before the half-hour.

Telford hit straight back inside 20 seconds to open their account, and it was a two-goal game with 20 minutes to play.  Michelle Madziak netted a second for Raiders on 45 minutes setting up a grandstand finish with Telford throwing everything including an extra attacker at the Cardiff net, but Mackenzie Macnamara and the Comets D held out and Comets were back in the Final.

And so to Super Sunday – four games, four championships on the line.

The U16s had been chomping at the bit since Friday night and they were first up on the Sunday morning.  With noisy support for both sides, the first period was tense and evenly matched until a late powerplay chance for Chelmsford allowed Connie Fidler to snipe top corner for the opening goal at 13.03.

London hit back in the middle frame as Rebecca Voslinsky score short side at 22.07 for 1-1, and so it remained for the rest of regulation time – despite chances at both ends.

Sudden death in a championship game? Yes please!  As it was, Chelmsford only needed 24 seconds as Cara Jones swept home the winning goal to cue the pile on from the bench and jubilation across the Rattlesnakes ranks.

Once again this season, each division picked an All Star line-up of forward, defence and goalie, and these were presented before the main championship trophy.  Best forward was Chelmsford’s Izabela Zdzsiesinska.  London’s Aurora Dobbs was named best defence, while Chelmsford’s Kiera Waddington was named all star goalie for the second year running.

The action moved to the WNIHL2 and a clash between Caledonia and Cardiff.  Steel Queens opened the scoring in just the fifth minute through Jessie Malloy, but that turned out to be the only score of the period.

Katie Trachtenburg’s bullet from the left circle doubled the lead at 35.49, but Cardiff came straight back to score at 37.01 to make it a one goal game with 20 minutes remaining.

Liv Taylor tied it five minutes into the final frame for Cardiff, but then for a second year running, a Scottish team snatched the title away from Cardiff with a late strike. Here it was the Steel Queens and not Solway Sharks, but the game winner came at 50.50 and despite late pressure, Steel Queens held on to complete a perfect unbeaten season, raise a championship and move up to Division 1 for next season.

The WNIHL2 All Stars were:

  • Forward – Steel Queens’ Jess Bridger
  • Defence – Steel Queens’ Jessie Mulloy
  • Netminder – Cardiff’s Mackenzie Macnamara.

The penultimate action of the weekend was the WNIHL1 Final, with Swindon’s third game in three days, facing off against Kingston Diamonds.

A nervy, tense opening saw a scoreless first period, before the teams exploded for no fewer than five goals in the middle stanza.

Lily Endicott bagged a quick double on 22 and 23 minutes to open a 2-0 lead for Swindon, before Ruby Newlands blasted Diamonds onto the scoreboard at 34 minutes.  Ellie Wallace went bar down to restore the two-goal lead, but Meeyah Forbes answered almost immediately for Kingston and after three goals in as many minutes, five in the period, Topcats were ahead 3-2 at the second break.

An early breakout in period three from Swindon was finished in style by Lily Endicott, completing a hat-trick and pulling the Cats further ahead again.  This was emphasised when Nora Egri went short side to make it 5-2 just five minutes into the final period.

There were more chances on each side, but three-in-three or not, Swindon Topcats were WNIHL1 champions to add to their league title.

WNIHL1 All Stars announced after the game:

  • Forward – Cats’ Lily Endicott
  • Defence – Diamonds’ Grace Cooper
  • Netminder – Cats’ Mali Easton

And so to the grand final, Elite League 1v2, long-time rivals and teams stacked with GB players.  Queen Bees vs Solihull.

Solihull & GB captain Jodie Alderson-Smith had a wrist shot from the high slot which was too hot for QBs goalie McGinley, and the Vixens were on the board in the seventh minute.

Jodie’s GB team-mate Katherine Gale leveled the game from the edge of the crease at 12.08 and we were square at the first break. Two minutes into the middle period, Ellie Wallace swept the puck high past Kayla Poole for a Queen Bee advantage which held to the second interval.

With the season on the line, Lily Endicott – playing up from Swindon and still on a high from her WNIHL1 hat-trick – stretched the lead at 42.59 with a shot on the turn which went in off the left-hand post.

With play moving back and forth and chances at both ends, the final was a great show from the top two sides, but in the end Amelia McGinley and the QBs held out and added the play-offs to their league championship!

WNIHL Elite All Stars were:

  • Forward – Queen Bees’ Katherine Gale
  • Defence – Queen Bees’ Abbie Sylvester
  • Netminder – Vixens’ Kayla Poole.

Congratulations to all winners, both teams and individuals, and to all teams, staff, volunteers and fans who made the weekend in Sheffield another great success.

The EIH WNIHL domestic season will resume in the autumn.

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