Emma Pearson was one of the original Manchester Phoenix women’s team that moved to play at Widnes in the summer of 2015 and has seen all the ups and downs of the past five seasons with the Wild women.
They made the end of season play offs in their first two seasons as a Women’s Premier League club and then the team entered a slump that ended with them being relegated to Division 1 North at the end of last season.
Looking back over this successful title-winning season, Emma said:
“I was really pleased with how the season went. It was great to win all but one of our games and was a huge change from the previous season for us. It was good to see the energy and excitement in the changing room each week and I was so impressed with how much the girls improved over the course of the season. So many people scoring their first goals this year was amazing and I loved seeing the joy on their faces when it happened.”
Unfortunately, the latter stages of the season were cancelled due to concerns about the cornonavirus pandemic so the Wild women were not able to take part in the promotion play off weekend in Sheffield. Pearson commented:
“It’s very disappointing. From somebody who has been to play offs in the past, I was so excited for the newer players to experience this too. I have never had the honour of lifting the league trophy for the team as captain so that was a real disappointment. It can’t be helped and hopefully we will get another go at it next season.”
Emma finished the season as the Wild women’s top points scorer – and second in the league overall – with 21 goals and 15 assists from 9 league games. In an eventful season, she also played 2 games for the Widnes Wild NIHL team and 7 games for the Blackburn Hawks 2 team, for whom she scored 1+1. This was her highest ever total for league points – the next highest having been the 2011/12 season when she scored 13+13 for the Sheffield Shadows.
She explained how it came about:
“I worked hard over the summer and through the season to improve on my shooting. Scoring goals has never been my strong point and I’m sure the coaches will agree that I often panic when I have no need to. Playing senior men’s hockey this season has also boosted my confidence, I had less time on the puck and feel this experience was really beneficial to my women’s game.”
In the summer of 2018, the Wild women’s team launched a recruitment drive and made the very bold – and, indeed, unheard of in competitive ice hockey circles – move to take on almost a whole new team of largely inexperienced players. Looking back on how that experiment has worked, Pearson said:
“2 years ago we had a large number of existing players leave for a variety of reasons. We had been running the club on lower numbers at that point anyway, so when the other players left we were either going to have to fold the club as we didn’t have the minimum numbers the league requires for a team to register – or we had to do a big recruitment drive.”
“We decided to go with recruitment, knowing it wouldn’t be an easy season but it paid off, we recruited lots of new players and they are all still with us this season which is amazing!”
“They have improved a lot and, although they were thrown in at the deep in by playing games in the Women’s Premier League, I think this was a good thing looking back as this season they have come out flying!”
The Wild women’s title ambitions were given a huge boost when senior player Leen de Decker was able to play for the team again after a year away.
Commenting on de Decker’s contribution as a player, Emma said:
“Leen is a very experienced player, she brings a calmness to the ice when she plays, there is no panic in her game. She has a lot of knowledge that she shares with the other players too. Leen and I have played on teams together for many years so I was really pleased when she was able to play competitive games again.”
Looking ahead to next season, Pearson commented:
“I hope we have a season first of all – who knows what the situation will be! We are working towards the new season like we always do. We normally have a summer break – which we are obviously taking early this year – but I know myself and the girls are working hard to stay fit and work on skills at home that will help to benefit our game when we can get back on the ice.”
“I would love to win the league title again and get to play offs – that’s our biggest aim and I know the coaches and team feel the same way.”
“We have built up a great team, and the spirit and atmosphere around the team is amazing, so – as long as we can keep that going – I’m sure we will be fine.”