At just 19 years of age, Saffron Allen has already represented Team GB at junior and senior women’s level, whilst also recovering from a career threatening injury. She kindly gave up some of her time to speak about her short ice hockey career thus far and what the future holds.
At the end of 2012 during the Olympic qualification campaign, you suffered a terrible injury with two slipped discs early in the game against China. How did your rehab go through 2013 and are you now back to where you were before the injury?
The rehab was extremely difficult in more ways than one. When I returned from China I was unable to walk or sit down and so spent a number of weeks laid flat in a bed in our living room. I had a number of scans and began a rehab program as soon as I could. Kirsty Hopgood, GB Sports Therapist, was a huge support. She provided me with the rehab plans (lasting up to 5 hours a day) and made the 2 hour drive after work weekly to visit me to check progress and support. Not only did I lose ability physically but also mentally I struggled. I was unable to attend college and so had to complete the year from home and so apart from the odd visitor, I really had no social contact. On returning from China I was told I would never play again and so this motivated me more to prove everyone wrong. It was an extremely slow and painful recovery but I’m so grateful to be back playing and really do not take any shift for granted.
You returned from the injury to play at the 2013 University Winter Games and had some personal success. Was that a vital morale booster for your career moving forward?
The FISU Universiade Games were incredible. It was a completely different atmosphere to what I have been in before at World Championships. We were really treated like elite athletes and the whole team had a great time. Having a number of GB athletes from different sports out there meant we were able to travel and watch other sports and support our athletes in their competitions too and that was brilliant. Having now just been accepted into University for September, it will allow me to be eligible for the team next trip in Granada, so I look forward to the trials for that.
The year of 2012 had otherwise been a great one for you until the China incident. A place at the IIHF High Performance Camp (1 of 100 selected) and scoring vital goals for GB U18 at the WC in Dumfries, but would you say having the honour of carrying the Olympic torch was the highlight?
The Olympic torch really was the highlight of 2012. To be involved in such a high profile event and have a part like that was amazing. To have been nominated by my Senior School head teacher for not only my sporting achievements, but also for my academic side, was a real honour. It is something I will treasure forever.
You’ve spent most of your career up till now playing with and against boys. Do you think this has given you the edge in what you’ve been able to achieve thus far?
I have always been mainly involved in male hockey. From the age of 7 I grew up and competed in every junior age group club team for Telford and also was part of the Midlands Conference teams and England teams. I feel that I have had a great development and coaching in hockey and some that have given me an enormous amount of dedication and passion. The men and women’s games are very different, however to transfer and play for both is great. I have no plans of stopping my men’s hockey as I do feel that it develops me a lot and gives extra to my game that I can then produce within the women’s game.
Your GB career has been one of rapid improvement. Two personally successful U18 World Champ campaigns and making the full step up in 2014 you recorded a goal and an assist. How big is the leap in the women’s game between junior and senior?
I actually played Senior Women’s GB before I played U18s GB. My first senior tournament was back in Caen, France 2011 and have been in the team ever since (missing the Strasbourg 2013 due to my back injury). I find the step from u18s to Senior a big, but reachable one for most players. The Seniors setup is now at a stage that players are being welcomed into at an earlier age and are able to attend the training camps whilst still u18s and I feel this is a huge positive for potential players. If players are willing to put in the effort and dedication to reach it, there is no reason why they won’t.
For many of your teams you’ve either been captain or wearing an “A”, do you see yourself as a leader on and off the ice, despite often being the youngest on the team?
I have been very honoured in the past to be awarded such leadership roles. When I have these roles I feel that you carry a lot upon your shoulders and I like to have responsibility. Whether I have a letter upon my shirt or not my game doesn’t change and neither does my attitude. Players are put into different roles for specific reasons and so whatever role I am given within a team I follow and try and fulfill it to the best of my ability.
It’s summer as we speak, so are you well into you off-season training and do you have any specific plans for parts of your game or physical fitness to improve for next season?
My season ended just after we returned from Asiago, Italy in late April. During the off season I usually work on a specific weakness I feel I want to improve and work with both club and National coach to agree what area this should be. I then create a training plan around that weakness whilst including all other areas too, so that I can maintain my fitness. National camps are about to begin again for this coming year and so to keep as fit as possible is important to gain selection for the coming World Championships.
GB will be hosting their Senior Women’s World Championship group in Dumfries over Easter of 2015. How excited are you at the prospect of representing GB at a senior women’s WC at home and what do you believe should be the team’s expectation for this tournament?
I think expectations are high, and so they should be. Last year in Italy we were playing as the unknown team, even from our point of view after the change of setup and staff. I feel that having come so close to being promoted straight back up into Div 1b, this coming year as hosts is our time. Playing at home is always a great feeling. Having played in Dumfries with the u18s in the qualification tournament and in Hull with the Seniors for the World Championships, I know what atmosphere and feeling it brings. This year with the World Championships falling over the Easter break, we hope to see a big crowd there for all of our games. Being in our own Country also means family members that cant otherwise always get to watch us, are more able to and by having the 8pm game every night it allows the team to get into a very comfortable routine and allow us to be fully prepared for every game.
Your first taste of qualification didn’t end too well for you personally but for you is it the ultimate dream to play at the Olympic Games?
Absolutely. An Olympic Games would be my dream. It is a very tough road to qualify however it is not impossible. As a squad we have intentions to progress as much as possible and push to reach everything we can. I really feel that with the setup and stability in place, the team could be part of an Olympic Games one day.
Is there any significance to wearing the number 16?
I have always played number 16. Many players have certain superstitions and lucky numbers etc. and this is one of mine.
Where will you be playing next season and do you have future plans to play abroad and turn professional?
Next year is a little unknown at the moment. I will be moving to Gloucester University in September to begin my degree and so my teams and schedule will change. Throughout the summer I have trailed for a few teams, both men and women, and so I will soon be making the decision to decide where I will be playing.
Playing abroad is always a players dream. If a professional contract was offered, I would definitely love to take some time away and experience the true athlete life however I’m currently extremely excited to start my degree and stick to hockey here for now. I know, especially after having my back injury, that a career can end within seconds, so to have an academic career as well as athletic is very important to me.
Many thanks to Saffron for her time and I wish you all the very best for this season and beyond.