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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2006, 17:59 GMT
Ice hockey team's survival fight
By Emma Carson

Jodie-Leigh Bloom and Kelly Drechsler
Late night training proves the players' love of the game
It is 11 o'clock on a Friday night - and as others wind down from a busy week at school, college or work, the Nottingham Vipers are on the ice.

Having already done an hour's physical training, they hone their skills in the only time available to them on the rink at Nottingham Ice Arena.

Yet despite such dedication the Vipers face serious problems because of a lack of sponsorship.

And the cost of training is forcing many skilled players out of the team.

The Vipers currently play in the Premier League - the highest in British ladies' ice hockey.

Between September and next May they will play 18 games with challenge ones thrown in.

Ages range from 42 right down to eight years old.
There's nothing like putting a puck in the back of the net during a game, you just can't describe it to anyone who hasn't done it
Laura Urquhart, coach
Currently 30 members are on the squad with 21 actually playing in matches and five are in other UK conference teams with two girls playing for the England Under-16s.

So the talent is there, but the financial burdens are evident - with some players forced to sit out the season because they simply cannot afford to train.

An individual must pay 30 a month to attend the Friday night sessions, plus 20 for every away game - and funding the referees for home matches.

"We're talking hundreds of pounds for every game, as well as ice time," said coach Laura Urquhart.

"We're all self-funding, every one of us that's involved is paying our share and it's very difficult to say goodbye to our players but unfortunately we have to because if they can't pay for ice time then it's a problem."

However, the passion that keeps the Vipers going is evident when you speak to them.

The Vipers listen to a team briefing
Every player pays to play

"Yes, it's quite expensive but then it's worth it in the end, because you meet loads of people, you have fun and you're doing the things you enjoy." said Becky Cook, 15.

Many team members became interested in ice hockey from watching the Nottingham Panthers play. Some were figure skaters, some just wanted to follow their older brothers or sisters into the game.

Jodie Leigh Bloom, 12, described her best moments: "I got picked for the under-16s England team, I think that was, like, the best part, and (when) I scored a penalty shot for the Vipers."

Youngsters can play in mixed teams until they are 16, so many of the girls train with, and play for, other junior teams on other nights of the week.

Megan Rathbone, 12, another England player, is one of them.

"If you don't train a lot then you won't turn out as well as if you train every night because the more you train the better you become," she said.

'Toughest sport'

Many of the older players keep up their physical training in other ways during the week.

Ice hockey is said to be the toughest team sport in the world - involving sprinting for seconds at a time in heavy protective gear that gets heavier when you sweat.

The women's game is non-contact, with more finesse - and fewer of the notorious fights.

"There's a great satisfaction - there's nothing like putting a puck in the back of the net during a game, you just can't describe it to anyone who hasn't done it," said Laura Urquhart.

She admitted female teams can often be treated as "poor relations" regarding getting ice time on some other British rinks, but said that was not a problem in Nottingham.

With the team having "won everything in sight" last year, Mrs Urquhart said that, with younger players coming through, the Vipers would concentrate on building the team this season.

"It's just being part of the whole - ice hockey in general, we all love the game and that's what it comes down to, the sheer love of the game."

Nottingham Vipers: Photo Gallery
14 Dec 06 |  In Pictures

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