Bulldogs’ Abbie prepares to take big step towards Winter Olympics with GB

Abbie Culshaw (No 6) after scoring her first goal for GB Women against Slovenia three years ago. Picture courtesy of Ice Hockey UK.

BRADFORD BULLDOGS’ Abigail Culshaw lines up for Great Britain to face Iceland in tonight’s Olympic Qualifiers aware of the role the club has played in helping her get there.

It will be the 11th senior international appearance by the 23-year-old when she takes to the ice at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre in a game that is being screened live on Freesports TV.

Head coach Mike Clancy’s team will also play Slovenia on Friday night before rounding off the tournament against Korea on Sunday (5pm).

Having first cut her teeth on the ice as a youngster at hometown club Blackburn Hawks, Abbie’s development really took off when she made the move across the Pennines aged just 14 to play at Little Horton Lane under Bulldogs’ head coach Andy Brown.

Playing for the club’s Under-16 team helped win her a place for GB Under-18s girls by the end of first season.

She returned to play for the Bulldogs’ Under-18s in the 2015-16 season, combining her ice time with Kingston Diamonds and Widnes Wild Women before making the step into senior men’s hockey with the Hawks in 2017-18. That move home led to her first call-up to the GB Women’s squad, something she repeated the following season.

In 2019-20, she returned to Bradford to play in NIHL North Two for the men’s seniors, combining her time with Whitley Bay Women.

Abbie Culshaw is hoping to get GB one step nearer the Winter Olympics

The pandemic prevented any further GB caps but, having already picked up an assist in her one appearance for the Bulldogs this season – the 8-0 home win over Nottingham Lions – Abbie is back representing the national team, having initially being named as a reserve before being called up last month to replace Chloe Headland, who had to withdraw from the squad.

“That feeling of pulling the shirt on is an absolute honour,” said Abbie. “Women’s hockey doesn’t get a lot of exposure but this tournament has had a lot, it is all live on Premier Sports TV and there will be hundreds of fans in the stands, so to pull that shirt and play in front of them will be a massive honour.”

And Abbie is quick to acknowledge the role played by Bradford in helping her return to international hockey.

“Just to try and push myself, I moved to Bradford to play in the junior ranks there. And then I came back because men’s hockey is obviously faster and more physical than the women’s game and playing for the Bradford men’s team under Andy definitely pushed me and a lot of credit goes to them for where I am now.

“Andy was a big part of the reason why I came to Bradford, I played for him at junior level and he was a great coach, with great systems.”

After the Olympic Qualifiers, Abigail will return to the domestic game and split her time between the Bulldogs and Whitley Bay.

“Whenever I’m available I’ll be playing for Bradford seniors in NIHL Two,” she added. “I play for Whitley women’s team and being a woman I have to prioritise that but whenever I can, I’ll play for Bradford – it’s something I’m keen to carry on doing.

“The season before Covid, I was getting quite a bit of ice time. We had a lot of injuries and I was a regular on the third line and it has only helped develop my game, it just pushes you that bit more and makes you a better player.”

Andy said he was looking forward to seeing how well Abbie performed for GB over the next four days.

Bradford head coach, Andy Brown.

‘It’s a fantastic achievement for Abbie and she’s worked extremely hard for this opportunity,” he said. “As with most years, we have an agreement that she can prioritise the games for her women’s team and play for Bradford when she doesn’t have a game for them. 

“But she trains regularly with us and I’m sure this has aided her development. She is a fast, tenacious player with a good IQ. She reads the game well and I’m looking forward to watching how well she performs in these three games.” 

Abbie’s GB coach Mike Clancy added: “Abbie is a superb call-up to the roster. She already has international experience and was unlucky to miss out in the first instance. She will be a great addition to the squad.”