Leanne Emmerson. Image credit: British Paralympic Ice Hockey Association

Paralympic dreams for world champion ice hockey player from Ely

‘Hopefully, our wins encourage more people and especially women to try the sport,’ said gold medallist, Leanne Emmerson

THE first Welsh woman to represent Great Britain in para ice hockey has fresh Paralympic hopes after returning from the world championships with a gold medal.

Former champion kickboxer Leanne Emmerson, 38, turned to para ice hockey after becoming paralysed in her left leg as well as receiving a type one diabetes diagnosis.

She has returned to Wales with an International Paralympic Committee (IPC) Para Ice World Championships Pool C gold medal. She hopes the win will help shine a light on women’s para ice hockey.

Emmerson said: “Hopefully, our wins encourage more people and especially women to try the sport.

“It shows others anything is possible. We have a lot of people at club level who want to play on that international stage. This has shown them they can.”

The women are going for gold

Mixed teams can compete in the IPC Para Ice World Championships, but it is unclear if the sport will be split into separate men’s and women’s competitions for the 2026 Paralympics.

Emmerson remains positive that the women will be strong contenders for a 2030 bid if the sport decides to separate the genders.

“Nothing’s final, we’re not sure what’s in the pipeline in terms of separating men and women,” said Emmerson.

“We wish we could be there but if there is a separate competition for the women it’s a good thing for us. I’m hopeful in any case there will be women on that 2030 stage.”

Leanne Emmerson competing for team GB | Image credit: British Paralympic Ice Hockey Association

The experience at the World Championships in Thailand has been great for the women’s side of the sport.  Emmerson and her fellow gold medal winners, Dani Watts, Jodi Hill and Stacey Quirk, have been able to take the skills they learnt and apply them in the women’s training sessions.

Emmerson also attributes their progress to great coaching, as the sport hopes to attract more women.

“It has already grown from this time last year. We have got great coaches who have taken us forward. They really are pushing for women in the sport,” said Emmerson.

‘Rewriting the history books’

Although teams competing in the IPC World Championships can be mixed, it is rare for sides to even have one woman on their squad.

But British Para Ice Hockey broke the status quo, bringing four women to compete in the IPC Para Ice World Championships.

Emmerson, Dani Watts, Jodi Hill and Stacey Quirk were the four women on team GB who helped bring the gold home, suggesting that a mixed squad in para ice hockey can lead to success.

In December 2022, the Great Britain side won all four games played in Pool C of the World Championship against Armenia, France, Austria, Thailand and Kazakhstan and re-wrote the history books while doing it.

Emmerson made history, being among the four women kicking off the deciding World Championship game against Kazakhstan. 

“On the last game, they let all four women start which is the first time it’s happened,” said Emmerson.

“It was a must-win game, but we played great defensively. It was a great experience.”

The British Para Ice Hockey squad now hold various world records including:

  • The most women on a team at the World Championships.
  • Most women on an opening puck at a World Championship game.
  • First woman (Dani Watts) to score at a World Championship.
  • The first female netminder shutout at a World Championship

According to Emmerson, making history on the world stage did not come without its challenges, but it was all worth it in the end.

“It was a lot faster paced and upbeat than we are used to, but I wasn’t scared of the challenge and to mix with the men. I wasn’t going to be easy to get the puck off.”

Emmerson echoed: “It’s the best time to give the sport a go. So, believe in yourself. You can do anything you put your mind to.”

  • To find out more about British Para Ice Hockey click here