Coventry Phoenix forward, Jenny Adams, in action against Telford
BBC Blast Sport
By Paul Wheeler
Reporter for BBC Coventry & Warwickshire
The Coventry Blaze are the current British Elite League champions, with crowds of over 2000 people regularly watching their games on a Sunday.
But how many of those fans know there is also a thriving women's ice hockey team in Coventry?
As a keen player myself, I was intrigued, and so I went along to a training session to find out more.
I met the girls who are proving that ice hockey is definitely not just a man's sport.
Women's ice hockey
The Coventry Phoenix, and indeed women's ice hockey in general, are one of British ice-hockey's best-kept secrets. Formed in 2003 by a group of six players, the team play in English Division One (North), and while most of the region is preparing for a night out on a Friday evening, the players, with ages ranging from sixteen to their late thirties, are preparing for another night of hard graft perfecting their skills on the ice.
Coventry Phoenix goalie Tam Donoghue makes a save
Nothing at this level of the sport is free. The players pay to play each season, buy their own equipment and turn up week after week with no more motivation than a great love for the game. Coached by volunteers and with a match-night staff made up of parents and friends, the team travel up and down the country, weekend after weekend, proudly representing Coventry through a season, which lasts from September to May, or sometimes even extending into June.
Last season, the team finished fourth in the now-defunct English Division One (Midlands), and are moving to the new Division One (North) this year with the aim of gaining promotion to the top level of the women's sport in Britain.
With a young squad (the vast majority of the players are 25 or under) and several players who have only recently started the game, this may be a tall order. However, Canadian ex-pat Chuck Grieve, who coaches the team along with chairman Dave Adey, and whose daughter Suzi is one of the founding members, doesn't see the numbers in the win column as the best indicator of the team's success. In his view, the Phoenix's biggest achievement is the way they have helped women young and old discover the joys of "the fastest team sport in the world"
Chuck adds: "I find it extremely gratifying to see girls come onto the ice for the first time not knowing whether they're going to like the game or not, and picking up a stick, playing with the puck and saying "hey, this is fun!". To me, that's the essence of what sport is all about".
I find it extremely gratifying to see girls come onto the ice for the first time not knowing whether they're going to like the game or not, and picking up a stick saying, 'hey, this is fun!'
Chuck Grieve, Phoenix coach
Ice hockey is very much viewed as a Canadian sport (even though the national sport of Canada is actually, believe it or not, lacrosse), but the Phoenix is made up mainly of local British players, many of whom have played in the Coventry Blaze junior system. They have had several players move on to Premier Division teams and recently put up a good showing at the annual Swindon Friendship Tournament, the traditional weekend meeting which ends the women's ice-hockey season.
Their youngest player, Mariah Spare, is unable to play competitive games but is still able to train with the Phoenix, and the team spirit has her chomping at the bit to reach the age of 16:
"I'm looking forward to when I'm old enough to play games. It's fun in training and everyone gets on but games'll be even better."
Goalie Tam Donoghue perhaps sums up best what makes the girls play the game, and just why they and many like them in Britain are happy giving up Friday nights and many of their weekends to spend them in cold ice-rinks up and down the country: "Playing hockey there's no other feeling like it. It's the best feeling in the world".
It seems that, with passion like that, the Phoenix are a team that will be a part of the Coventry sporting landscape for a long while to come.
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