Leeds Roses aiming to finally bloom by making up for lost time on the ice

THERE is an in-joke among Leeds Roses Ice Hockey club that the team will be one of the most prepared in history to make their long-awaited debut.

HITTING THE ICE: Leeds Roses take a breather during their one and only practise session at Elland Road last year. Picture courtesy of Leeds Roses/All Sports Photography.

Leeds Roses – who were set up last summer as the first and only all women’s ice hockey team in the city – have been able to take to the ice just once as a team since their formation in the middle of 2020.

While the jibe brings a smile there is an element of truth to how the current Covid-19 pandemic has hit sport across Leeds on a local level.

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The Roses, though, haven’t let the restrictions slow them down despite pucks being firmly locked away throughout the winter months.

PRACTISE MAKES PERFECT: Members of Leeds Roses, pictured at elland Road Ice Arena last year. Picture courtesy of Leeds Roses/All Sports Photography.

Initial interest has seen over 50 women want to get involved whether to play, coach or support the club in its relative infancy.

Social media has helped raise awareness but word of mouth has played a key role too, with a number of players having graduated from Leeds Gryphons – a club made up of students who attend universities across Leeds.

The recent opening of Planet Ice at Elland Road and the launch of the Leeds Chiefs in the NIHL National division – the UK’s second tier game – helped spring the Roses idea into action.

Already registered as a recreational team, there are big plans for the club and the enthusiasm of those involved is obvious despite relationships between new team-mates and members having to be developed through Facebook.

Picture courtesy of Leeds Roses/All Sports Photography.

A spot in the Women’s National Ice Hockey League is the long-term goal, but for now as the foundations are being put in place just getting out on the ice seems ambitious enough.

“It would be the complete dream package,” Amanda Usher, co-founder and club secretary, told the YEP.

“Hopefully what will then fall from that will be a rec team and development teams. As many women who want to come and play with us are welcome. We have no joining criteria.

“Anyone who wants to come and play is welcome to come and play. You just need to have kit – that’s the only prerequisite.

DRILLS: Leeds Roses' players are put through their paces at Elland Road last year. Picture courtesy of Leeds Roses/All Sports Photography.

“We’ve had interest from across the board. There’s a few elite players who have supported us and there are complete beginners from older ladies to younger ladies too.

“We’re confident we can put together an elite level team. In an odd sort of way it’s been lovely to set up in a pandemic, whilst we haven’t really got on the ice we’ve got a huge squad together.

“We keep joking that we’re going to be the most prepared team to ever make our debut. It’s been a long time in the making.”

All that has been missing for the Roses has been the actual ice hockey, with their solitary training session taking place last October – a session which they were oversubscribed for. The team already has three fully-qualified coaches in place ready to nurture their new players, whenever the time finally comes, and has attracted vast interest.

“It’s definitely been a different experience with a lot of time off the ice, I know we’ve all struggled with everything that’s been going on this last year,” coach Ali Marsden said.

“Even though we were able to get an inaugural session under our belts it was quickly cut short by the new advice.

“What made it really tough was that we had just got the first session done and were raring to go when we had to shut down.

“Everyone on the team has kept the ‘return to play’ in the back of their minds with everything they’re doing at home in lockdown, whether that is Zoom workouts, running or hiking, or going for walks.

“I’ve personally tried to keep my stick-handling skills up to scratch in my kitchen with a golf ball.”

Finding inventive ways to keep sharp has been a challenge for all of those involved in sport during such a testing time without it.

Players away from the elite level have had to find inventive ways to keep fit, so they are ready to return to action when the all clear is given. For the Roses and their new squad it has been no different.

“It’s been awful, I’ve played since I was three years old and never had a break this long,” player Sophie Sinclair added.

“Sport is so important for so many people’s mental health and the break has really taken a toll on every athlete.

“I never thought I’d see the day but I’ve actually got into running. I couldn’t be more excited to get back on the ice – it’s going to make a world of difference.”

A new community has been born out of the club, whether intended or not, on the Leeds hockey scene. Despite the lack of on-ice action they’re already finding ways to link up with the local community, having set up a partnership with This Girl Can and Leeds Women’s Aid by donating a jersey for charity auction.

It is something that those at the top would like to continue and expand with others in the sport when some form of normality resumes. For Leeds Roses the journey is just beginning and that comes with the beating of the ice hockey drum within the city.

“We’d love to present a united front as Leeds,” Amanda concluded. “We’re open to working with any of the Leeds teams like the Chiefs or whoever, especially with the ice rink being so new. The best way for us to make it a success and help grow the sport is for the teams to unite and help each other out.”

Leeds Roses are sponsored by Warrior Works, a yoga studio based in Roundhay, and Leeds-based visual design and marketing outfit, Addar.

The club are looking for more sponsorship and partnership opportunities anyone interested should contact them via email at: [email protected]

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