Alumni Spotlight Episode #2 Blades of Blue Nicole & Astrid

CUWBC Alumnae Shift from Rowing to Ice Hockey

#FutureBlues will benefit from the Gattiker Ice Rink opening in Cambridge


The Cambridge Ice Arena and Gattiker Ice Rink is due to open in late September, providing a place for public skating and intensive training by the Cambridge University Ice Hockey teams.

This is a huge opportunity for women’s sport within the University and in the community at large. Over the years, CUWBC has had alumnae continue on to the Women’s Ice Hockey team. In anticipation of the ice arena’s opening, we heard from Nicole Abernethy (Blondie/LW 2016) and Astrid Kopmels (Blondie 1984/5) about their experiences with the Boat Race and Ice Hockey.

Nicole says,

‘It is fantastic to hear that the much anticipated Cambridge Ice Rink will be opening this year. Proximity to ice is certainly something I took for granted in Canada and only after numerous midnight bus rides to Peterborough for practices did I come to appreciate the luxury of a home arena. I know that this new development will be of immense value to both varsity teams, as well as the Cambridge community, who will now have access to year round skating facilities.

‘When I first came to Cambridge I was only focused on trialing for the Boat Race and never expected to play hockey. I was not even aware Cambridge had a team until I came across another players equipment in my college laundry room. I soon learned that the hockey history at Cambridge is almost as rich and storied as rowing – the annual varsity match is recognized as the longest standing rivalry in the sport’s history and both jerseys are on display at the Hockey Hall of Fame in my home city, Toronto (Canada).  Throughout high school and university, I had always juggled rowing and competitive hockey so it was only natural I would pursue them both during my masters.’

Nicole’s involvement with the Ice Hockey team allowed her CUW teammates to experience a new sport as well. She continues,

‘One of my coaches at the time (Nick Acock) turned out to be a huge hockey fan and offered to drive some of my crewmates to watch my varsity match in Oxford. For some of my British friends, it was their first time at a hockey game and I was thrilled to share this moment with them.’

The obvious challenge of participating in both sports was scheduling–though Nicole found there were other benefits. She goes on,

‘The schedule was quite demanding – I would often find myself returning from a practice in Peterborough at 2am only to have to catch a 5:15am train to Ely the same morning. Although overwhelming at times, I was fortunate enough to be able to participate in two boat races (lightweight and Blondie) as well as a varsity match, all within my one year at Cambridge.

‘Much like rowing, hockey is a sport that requires a high level of agility, precision and focus alongside strong teamwork. The games are quite fast with a lot of moving parts so it is critical to have strong communication and trust in the players on the ice with you. As a coxswain, I am used to being in a unique position within the crew, but with hockey I am able to play a very different role as an integrated member of the team. I found transitioning between the two roles to be a rewarding experience. I believe the competitive edge I gained from playing hockey translated directly to my coxing and helped me to get a lot more out of my crew during tight races.’

Astrid also joined the Ice Hockey team at Cambridge after the culmination of her rowing career. She says,

‘After the Boat Race I thought I’d try a different sport (and I’m Dutch and had learnt to skate at 2) as studies were ramping up and I have a feeling we were one of the first women’s ice hockey teams if not THE first (there certainly weren’t any college teams!). We had a Canadian coach and had to leave to get our minibus to get to Peterborough at 4:30am in order to get back for the medics’ lectures at 9am. I was often the driver. We used the men’s padding which was very smelly, but did protect rather well from crashing into each other and the barriers :-). There was a big debate at the time about whether we would qualify for a half-blue and I think in the end only the first line out (not me) got them. When we had our varsity match, Oxford were at a huge advantage as they have always had their own rink. I think the score was something like 5-3 to them, which we thought was a great result in the circumstances (we could only practice one hour per week).’

We’re extremely lucky at CUWBC to have practice facilities both in Cambridge and Ely, allowing us to maximize our time in the pursuit of sport alongside our studies. We’re also incredibly excited to follow along as the ice hockey teams at Cambridge get this same benefit in facility proximity for the first time this autumn. You might even see some of our current squad members (carefully) using the ice during public skate time!