No matter what country, no matter what sport, being able to represent your country is a dream come true. The Winter Olympics is the biggest state for women’s hockey and countries from around the world competed at their chance to go to Beijing.
Ella Howard had a chance to compete for Great Britain in the first round of the qualifications. Although he didn’t make it to the next round, she brought back some valuable experience and hope for another chance to compete in Italy in four years.
Great Britain has a huge hockey population. Although it could be dismissed because of the lack of NHL players in the country, the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) says there are 11,148 registered hockey players. Howard being one was inspired by her mother and the local EIHL team.
“My mother is from Finland and she loves hockey so she would take me to the local game. I instantly loved the game and started playing from there,” Howard said.
Ever since she has trained her entire childhood and recently has had the chance to compete for her nation. In 2018 and 19 she competed for Great Britain in the IIHF U18 Women’s tournament in Division IB. The Olympic Qualifiers was the first time Howard has played for the national senior’s team and it was at one of the most important tournaments for her nation.
“It was a big difference from playing with the U18 girls. At first, I got anxiety, some girls I never met before but they were a nice group and brought me along instantly,” Howard said.
In the first round, the team was facing Iceland, Slovenia, and South Korea. The original venue was going to be in South Korea but because of COVID-19 restrictions, the venue had to change to a home-ice for Great Britain in Nottingham.
For Howard’s first senior tournament, having the ice at home made the tournament all the more special. “To have friends and family watch you made it more special. It was a huge moment to see in the stands and see young girls watch you and be inspired made the tournament so much better,” she said.
Howard was the backup goalie for the team and only played in one out of the three games. Her game against last-place Iceland was a sneak peek into her future as a goalie for her home nation.
When her name was called to go into the net for the Iceland game, she was ready. “You have a ‘this is it’ moment. You run everything you know in your mind and play the best game I have ever played. I wanted to help the team get into the next round and finishing the game against Iceland would be the first step,” she said.
Howard didn’t see the ice for the next two games that Great Britain lost to but as an 18-year-old it was more experience than most can have. Now that the tournament is over, she has gone back to being the backup for the University of Calgary Dinos and waiting for her next shot in an unstable IIHF year.
With her being 18 she is now too old to compete at the U18 tournaments and women don’t have a U20 like the men’s. Her next shot to represent her country will be in April when the Women’s Division IIA tournament will happen with Great Britain in the mix. She would have the chance to compete against Latvia, Spain, Mexico, and other countries in Jaca, Spain.
Until then she is still learning and even though she is 18 she has advice for young girls who may want to represent their country. “Nothing is impossible, the women’s game is growing really quickly and although you may not think it, just being a player and following your dreams will inspire others,” she said.