Wild NIHL netminder Phil Pearson formed a successful coaching partnership with Daniel Fay to coach the women’s team this season. (Photo by Geoff White)
The Widnes Wild women’s team won the first trophy in their 5-year history with the Division 1 North league title back in March and part of the credit for that success must go to Wild NIHL players Phil Pearson and Dan Fay who stepped in at short notice to coach the team at the start of the season.
A rather strange set of circumstances led to Pearson coaching the Women’s team this season, as he explains:
“I had been to the Wild women’s team’s sessions a few times over the past few seasons (because my wife Emma plays for the team) – when my training with Bradford Bulldogs and babysitting had allowed – working with Stephanie Drinkwater. They had a set of coaches in place for this season and, with me having signed for Wild NIHL team and the women’s training being on straight after the men’s session, I said I would stop on afterwards work with the women’s netminders.”
“Then, the original coaches suddenly left and I was asked to step up and run a few sessions with the full team rather than just focusing on the ‘keepers.”
“I hadn’t much experience coaching a full team before but I had worked with the goalies in the past, just giving pointers and running a few drills. I had just done my coaching course over the summer so I was pretty happy that I could put together some drills that the girls would enjoy.”
“I got a few of the Wild players to help with some of the sessions – the main one being Dan Fay – and Dan and I have continued to coach the women throughout the season. The girls seemed to enjoy it so we have carried on with it. The experience has been great – especially seeing the team develop and win the league.”
“We started working on the basics. As some of the women were quite new to the game we decided to start working on skating. Dan ran a lot of the skating drills and the women’s skating really came on as we did it. The drills we ran followed the same principles but became more complex as the season went on as the players improved.”
The Wild women’s team lost just one of their league games – away to Telford Wrekin Raiders – and were able to secure the league title with a win away to Solway Sharks Ladies on the last day of competition. Looking back over the successes of the season Phil commented:
“It feels great to have won the Division 1 North title at the first attempt. When Dan and I took over, the main aim was to make playoffs as Telford hadn’t lost a game for a considerable length of time, so we knew they and Solway were going to be pushing for the league as well.”
“It’s just a shame that the season ended early as it means the women can’t receive their trophy on the ice at the playoffs, which would have been a great experience for the girls.”
So, now that he has got the coaching bug, are we going to see more of Phil Pearson the coach in the future?
“Most definitely. I have really enjoyed this season and hope to do it for a good few years yet. We also have a title to defend so I would like to do that! I would like to attend some of the goalie coaching courses in the future as well.”
Wild women’s team captain Emma Pearson said of the coaching set-up for this season:
“Having Dan and Phil as coaches has been amazing for the team. The girls have a lot of respect for them and we all know that they have so much knowledge and playing experience that they can share with us.”
“They have made training fun but hard work at the same time, put new lines together and worked out what areas we needed to focus on.”
“As a team who has a large number of players relatively new to the sport, having them both as coaches has really helped those players as well as the more experienced players to develop new and existing skills which has shown massively in the games this season.”
“We had Mike Parkin, Howard Hughes and Gareth Davies, who helped us out on game days too, and they all have a wealth of knowledge and playing experience – so I feel we are really lucky to have this group of coaches to help us.”
Netminders’ Verdicts On Successful Season
Stephanie Drinkwater is one of the longest serving Wild women’s players, having been part of the initial Manchester Phoenix team that moved to Widnes in the summer of 2015.
This is the first piece of silverware ever for the Wild women and, looking back at the season, Drinkwater said:
“To win the league after being relegated back to Division 1 last year felt amazing, I was lost for words after our final game at Solway. This year felt even better to win with a new bunch of hard working girls who always had your back no matter what.”
Asked about having Phil Pearson as a specialist netminding coach, she commented:
“Having Phil as a coach has been the best, to actually have someone to tell you what you’re doing right from wrong had really helped my game this year. He saw me on good days and bad days and no matter what he always helped me to keep my head in the game. Training sessions were tough – but it all paid off!”
For the first time this season the Wild women had a regular backup netminder on the bench in Charlotte Jackson – younger sister of the Wild’s Tom Jackson. During the previous Women’s Premier League season, lone ‘keeper Drinkwater faced more shots than any other netminder and is now happy to be able to share the workload:
“Last year was definitely a tough one, I’ve never faced so many shots! I have never been so happy to have another netminder on the team. Charlotte is an absolute superstar in net and I’m so glad she had the opportunity to play. She’s such a talented keeper, never gives up and I hope she stays with us next year.”
Charlotte Jackson’s first season of competitive ice hockey was actually her first season of ice hockey full stop. Despite having played roller hockey at international level, she had never played on ice before the first game of this season! She explains the transition:
“I’ve played roller hockey since I was 8 so changing from wheels to blades was tricky at first. General netminding principles and kit are the same but I didn’t realise the ice was so slippy! Moving across the net was a lot different because you have to get used to using your edges so that you don’t accidentally jam your blade into the ice and fall over! I did this a lot in the beginning!”
“Phil has been very helpful – especially with my movement across the net and glove positioning. He may be fed up with repeating himself to me, though! I don’t always get it first time (or second or third or fourth)..!
Asked about her overall experience of her first year of competitive ice hockey Charlotte said:
“It has been great to win the league – other than we haven’t been able to really celebrate it yet due to lockdown so it doesn’t feel real yet. We have also missed out on the promotion playoffs and our end of season party, which is a shame.”
“Sharing the net with Steph has been good for me and the team. We both want the team to do well but her work commitments prevent her playing all of the games. It’s scary to step into her position for those games but, luckily, the whole team support me through this. Steph has been really supportive sharing her tips and helping me get it right.”
“My experience so far at Widnes Wild Women has been brilliant. I’ve loved being part of the team (win or lose). All the girls are supportive to me and each other. The support for the women’s team is increasing and it would be nice to see that grow more next year.”