2020 IIHF Women’s World Championships
On February 29, 2020, in Akureyri, Iceland, the Australian women’s ice hockey team played New Zealand in the decisive game of the tournament. Australia led the group, but a New Zealand victory would force a three-way tie with Australia and Iceland, and a four-goal loss to New Zealand would give the Kiwis the gold. Nerves and doubt, long-time companions of adversity, could have easily set in amongst the players and staff after going behind early in the game. For those who were part of this team, though, there was never any doubt, they put their heads down and went to work, overturning that early deficit, winning 7-1 and securing the gold medal.
This is their story.
Australia’s Assistant Coach Paul Graham often reflects on that tournament, his first behind the bench at an international level. He said,
You’d think that in a team of such talented players there would be egos running wild. I was reminiscing about the trip recently with Isla Malcolm, who played for the team, and we’ve never experienced such a well-cultured team. From the mutual respect, friendships and willingness to get a job done and work towards a common goal.
That term ‘well-cultured team’, or variations of it, appeared often amongst those I spoke with. Now fair warning, if you are expecting an article purely about what happened in each game, or for a short read, please adjust your expectations. We will discuss the tournament, but stories are also included about bus karaoke, juice box photography and assistant coach room relocations.
Those stories are included because they create a panoptic picture of this team, how special it was, how close-knit they were. I asked Georgia Moore if she thought things like bus karaoke, the crocodile mascot (we’ll get to that), and other traditions resulted in creating this wonderful team chemistry. Her answer was delightfully unexpected. She said,
It kept the bond going, for sure, but I think those things come about because of the bond we had.
Pre-Tournament Training Camp – Sweden
After meeting up in Dubai, the team flew together to Sweden where they held a week-long training camp. It also gave the team an opportunity to celebrate Sharna Godfrey’s birthday.
After spending time in Tranås and Linköping, which helped the team bond and acclimatise to both time zone and climate, the team was off to Iceland.
The team proved to rookie Assistant Coach Paul Graham early on that they were able to work towards a common goal. One conspiratorial player shared the following:
We had our physio take him [Graham] out for a walk and we moved his whole room into the common area. Like bed, bedside table, lamp. Everything. He got back and his room was completely empty.
We have also managed to acquire a video of the incident in question; click here for your viewing pleasure.
On a more serious note, Iceland is a visually stunning country, with a vastly different climate to Australia. The location was one that Michelle Clark-Crumpton won’t soon forget.
The whole time in Iceland was amazing. The snow and scenery were stunning. We also did a day trip to some outdoor volcanic hot springs – such a cool experience to be in the hot springs while the snow was falling.
Game 1: Iceland
Game one for Australia pitted them against the tournament hosts, Iceland. Australia played a well-structured team game and the line of Michelle Clark-Crumpton, Tash Farrier and Natalie Ayris combined for the first goal. It would not be the last time that line combined for a goal in the tournament, nor in the period. Another Clark-Crumpton goal bookended goals by Shona Green and Tess Reynolds. Shona Green netted her second in the second period and Natalie Ayris gave Australia a surprising 6-0 lead. Sunna Bjorgvinnsdottir spoiled Olivia Last’s shutout bid, but the 6-1 victory was in the books.
Rylie Padjen, reflecting on the game observed:
I think beating Iceland first up was pretty amazing, we weren’t expecting to beat them by so much, and they were definitely shocked. I was really proud of our rookie defence as well, I had food poisoning the day before and was still recovering, and they just slotted in so well and I actually only played about half the game.
Next up: a familiar foe in Sera Doğramacı’s Turkey.
Spotlight: Sera Doğramacı
Sera Doğramacı is a towering presence in Australian ice hockey. The Sydney Sirens goaltender also serves as the National Goaltending Development Coach for Ice Hockey Australia. At an international level, Sera represents Turkey and has won Turkey’s player of the tournament on three occasions, and in 2014 was named best goaltender of the tournament by the directorate.
Sera decided prior to the tournament that this was to be her last. She was kind enough to share one of her favourite memories from the tournament.
The standout moment was my final game, where I stepped off the ice and waiting for me was my friend Gudlaug. I had played against in my first tournament for Turkey, coached alongside her at the IIHF Camp in Vierumaki, and now had her lining the games that week at Worlds. She was waiting for me with a small gift, which included the game puck since I was retiring from International Duties. It was a touching gesture and we both shed some tears, knowing we wouldn’t be in that environment again in that sort of capacity. Those lifelong friendships are worth far more than any trophy or award.
The game of hockey, and tournaments such as this one, provide wonderful stories and memories for those involved.
Game 2: Turkey
Australia got on the board in the first period courtesy of a Michelle Clark-Crumpton powerplay goal but took a late penalty that carried over into the second. Early in the second, with just seven seconds left on the powerplay, Cagla Baktiroglu scored the equalising goal for Turkey. Australia regained the lead midway through the second, Michelle Clark-Crumpton netting the go-ahead goal. Australia’s penalty kill had to go to work, taking five consecutive penalties, but doing a good job in keeping chances to the outside and generating chances in between. Doğramacı nearly stole the result for Turkey as Australia dominated the shot-count 41-20, but Olivia Last and Australia took the win and returned to the top of the table.
To an outsider, it was quite possibly Australia’s toughest game of the tournament. Reflecting on the game, Sharna Godfrey was in agreement, saying,
That game was actually probably our hardest. Sera obviously knows us all really well so that kept the score quite tight.
Assistant Coach Paul Graham stated:
I’ve known Sera through coaching the Inferno in the past. There’s always going to be a rivalry when you have Sirens players on the Australian team playing against a teammate. On the day though, it was just another team who we were playing. I’d think that the game was poised to give her a psychological boost though. For us it was a whole team playing against one person we knew. I’m sure for her it would have given her an extra level to play at and she had an outstanding game.
And finally, Sera Doğramacı made the following comments about what it meant to her to play against Australia:
That game against Australia is the reason I went to Worlds. I had played with or against every player on that roster, including some of my best friends, so I knew what to expect. I was there to have fun, and compete obviously, but mostly to have fun. You couldn’t wipe the smile off my face that entire game, and to only have 2 goals against me, and to earn player of the game for Team Turkey, it was the standout game of my international career.
Next up: Croatia.
Spotlight: Dundee the Crocodile
You won’t see Dundee’s name on a line-up sheet, but Dundee is a fixture for the Mighty Jills. Captain Rylie Padjen described Dundee’s role:
Yes well the croc is always controversial, the latest coaching staff has been trying to get rid of him for years, but they don’t realise he’s not ours to get rid of, he belongs to the team and he’s been there longer than all of us. It’s the longest standing tradition we have, so I think it’s important he sticks around, no matter how dirty he gets.
I’m not 100% sure who first brought him on, but he’s been the responsibility of the youngest rookie at each tournament thereafter, they have to carry him everywhere they go and make sure nothing happens to him, it gives the younger rookie something to be responsible for to distract them from being away from home because often they’re quite young, around 16 and it can be quite a change for them to be in that environment, most often in a completely new country and culture, so it gives them something to focus on and is also something fun that the team can use to include them.
The crocodile provides a welcome distraction for other players as well. The veteran who succeeds in stealing Dundee gets to come up with a ‘punishment’ for the rookie guardian. Both Rylie Padjen and Georgia Moore indicated that this often involves singing the national anthem in a public setting.
Dundee has been a part of the team since the year 2000 and gets a ‘spa day’ (dry-cleaned) at the conclusion of the tournament.
Game 3: Croatia
From CRO-codiles to CRO-atia (flawless segue). New Zealand, one of Australia’s main rivals in the tournament, had faced Croatia in their first game and dispatched them 11-1. Georgia Moore observed
In these tournament formats, no matter the score, you just have to keep the foot on the pedal so to speak. You need all the positive stats you can get. While it seems cruel, I’ve seen tournaments won or lost over goals for and against, so you do what you have to do. I think this also reflected how focused we were as a team and our commitment to our game plan.
Australia dominated this game in every respect. Michelle Clark-Crumpton led the way with a hat-trick, Sharna Godfrey, Tess Reynolds, Natalia Ayris and Ashlie Aparicio each scored two-goals, and Anna Badaoui, Rylie Padjen, Shona Green and Georgia Moore added single tallies. The game finished 15-0 in Australia’s favour, Tina Girdler recorded a three-save shutout between the pipes as Australia outshot Croatia 90-3. Paul Graham shared his thoughts on the game:
Games like this are always hard for reasons other than the score. There’s a fine line between being gracious and respectful toward another team and being arrogant. The team did really well in walking that line. No big celebrations, no greedy plays with players looking for scoring titles. Just a solid team effort that showed that the team was a class act. Those games are a perfect time to work on the small things. Everyone feels comfortable and there’s no pressure. So as a coach it’s a good time to see who still plays the systems and holds positions or who’s taking liberties a little.
Next up: Ukraine
Spotlight: Bus Karaoke and Juice Box Jaden
What is bus karaoke, and what in the world is Juice Box Jaden?
Sharna Godfrey provided clarity on bus karaoke:
We do it every year. All our rookies need to pick a song to sing. They have to wear noise-cancelling headphones and listen to the song. So all they can hear is the song and all we can hear is them singing. We can’t hear the music. Some of the girls get really into it. It’s hilarious.
Regarding Juice Box Jaden, I asked Paul Graham to send through a collection of behind the scenes photographs. Most of the ones I received were juice box related, and more specifically of Jaden Pine-Murphy, the goalie coach, drinking a juice box. I’ll include a few of the MANY photos to choose from, and you decide for yourself what you think.
Game 4: Ukraine
Australia continued from where they left off against Croatia, giving the opposing goaltender a sunburn from lighting the lamp so frequently. Natasha Farrier scored a hat-trick, Michelle Clark-Crumpton added another two goals, and Natalie Ayris, Georgia Moore, Sharna Godfrey and Stephenie Cochrane all lit the lamp. Daria Tsymyrenko scored midway through the third period. It was the only goal Tina Girdler allowed in the game and in the tournament.
The win put Australia in a strong position heading into the final day of play.
Next up: New Zealand in what was essentially the gold medal game.
Spotlight: Sharna Godfrey
One of the highlights of the tournament for Sharna Godfrey was her mother coming to Iceland to watch her play.
My parents hadn’t been able to attend worlds for a few years as my dad had been unwell. He passed away in February 2019 and he told Mum she has to come to my next worlds. She was super excited to book it all and she stayed on the extra week travelling with me.
Any parent would be immensely proud of their child for making their national team and competing at an international tournament. What took place in the gold medal game against New Zealand is enough to send chills up your spine or make you teary, or both.
Game 5: New Zealand
When Caitlin Heale scored for New Zealand just 2:44 into the game, nerves and self-doubt could have crept in. New Zealand was given a huge opportunity to extend the lead just 44 seconds later when Australia was penalised for an illegal hit.
A few players and coaches graciously commented on the feeling amongst the team.
We stayed calm and didn’t panic. We knew we had plenty of time left and had the offensive ability to score lots of goals.
As a team, I really liked how we responded to New Zealand taking that lead early on. It showed how much depth we had and that we never deviated from the plan. No one panicked, we trusted the systems we had in place and did the work we needed to.
It was actually really interesting to see how a team reacts and pulls together when they’ve been made to work to overcome an early goal. It was just one of those moments where we all looked around and gave a knowing nod that it was time to go work. There wasn’t a major panic that we went behind, just we knew we had a hockey game to win and had to pull the players back into the game and not dwell on a less than ideal start.
Australia went to work on the penalty kill, Sharna Godfrey used her speed and skill to score shorthanded and the game was tied. The rest of the period featured close-checking and another two overlapping penalty kills for Australia, resulting in a 5-on-3 powerplay opportunity for New Zealand. Olivia Last and the penalty killers stood strong to see out the period in a deadlock.
Just over two minutes into the second, Captain Rylie Padjen scored a go-ahead marker. Then, at the end of a big penalty kill, Ashlie Aparicio potted an insurance marker for a 3-1 lead. A flurry of penalties for both sides ensued to end the period.
Another period, another early goal, this time it was Sharna Godfrey scoring her second of the game. Kate Tihema and Tash Farrier scored a few minutes later in rapid succession, and the gold was in reach. Late in the period, Sharna Godfrey used the extra space afforded by 4-on-4 hockey and completed the hat-trick. A few minutes later, Australia had won the gold, 7-1!
Hat-trick hero Sharna Godfrey commented on what it meant to her:
It was my first hat-trick at world championships and to do it against our rivalries and in essentially a gold medal game made it even more special.
A few of the players offered their thoughts on what the gold and the experience of going to an IIHF World Championship meant to them. For Georgia Moore it was her first taste of gold in an Australian jersey. She shared the following:
Personally, standing on the ice after the final buzzer, I felt pretty shell shocked to be honest. It didn’t sink in that we had won gold for me until minutes after that final buzzer. I know it sounds cliché but it was a pretty surreal moment, standing there, taking it all in. The gold had eluded me for 10 tournaments so maybe that had something to do with it. 16 years, 10 world championships, and 50 games in the making that gold medal was. And I wouldn’t have it any other way, this was the best team to win gold with.
World championships are an experience like no other. We have post tournament blues when we all get back. It’s a real thing and really hard to deal with. You’ve essentially had the best 2-3 weeks of your life with your hockey family. There is also no scheduled nap time when you come back to the real world which hurts. And you have to decide yourself what to eat; truly hard.
Michelle Clark-Crumpton also won gold for the first time at the 2020 tournament. She said:
This was my third one (World Championships) and definitely my favourite! The experience of representing my country is just amazing and such an honour. Winning gold was one of the highlights of my life. It’s something I always dreamed of. The game of hockey has given me so many amazing experiences. I’ve got to travel around the world to places I never thought I’d see (Iceland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Scotland). I’ve met so many great people and friends through hockey too. Being able to experience winning gold with the great group we had was special and I’m grateful I got to be part of it.
For Rylie Padjen, it was her third gold medal-winning tournament. She commented,
I think the team chemistry was really good last year, there were lots of fresh faces but it just felt like there was an underlying feeling of mutual respect which stemmed from the AWIHL that season. There were so many amazing hockey players, but we all had a common goal which was to win gold so we came together really nicely despite the fact we were all from different AWIHL teams. I think Tash Farrier had a huge influence on the team chemistry, she’s such a positive person and really supportive of everyone, she’s an exceptional leader on and off the ice and she was definitely the piece we needed to complete the puzzle and help us win.
And finally, Sera Doğramacı observed,
Team Turkey had already left to head back home, but I stuck around to watch the NZ-AUS game. There was a moment of “uh-oh” when NZ scored the first goal, but pretty quickly Aus stepped up their game and did not hold back. I kept cheering them on from the stands and was so proud of their efforts. They deserved that gold, and it’s just a shame they have to fight for it again when the next World’s opportunity comes around.
As Sera mentioned, Australia will still be playing in Division II B. The decision was made that no teams would be promoted or relegated from Division II B due to subsequent tournaments being cancelled due to Covid-19. There is uncertainty regarding when the next world championships will be held. But there is no doubt that the women competing will make Australia proud with their performance. The players and staff who form the team pay their own way to represent their country. We are so proud of their efforts and hope that the game can continue to grow, attract sponsorship, and help us reach our goal of Olympic participation.
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