By GREG WHITE
SEVEN years after first sliding across the ice hockey rink at the Big Banana, Jemma Scotford has captured a gold medal with the Australian Division Three Womens team at the World Championships in England.
After holding pre-training in Japan, the squad moved to Sheffield for a six-match series and finished the tour undefeated.
In rapid succession Australia took out South Africa, Hungary and tournament favourites Great Britain.
But it was the 8-2 defeat of Belgium and the 6-0 whitewash of Korea that helped lift the team into Division Two and the right to challenge for a berth at the Winter Olympics.
"When the Big Banana rink first opened I came here to learn how to skate," Scotford remembered.
"The Canadian ice hockey coach Wayne Bradford was living in Nambucca Heads at the time and he took me under his wing."
Locally, Scotford now receives specialist coaching from Chris Pet.
"I've played many different sports but this is the most addictive," she said."
"It helped me reach the goal of captaining an Australian select side on a tour of New Zealand last year."
Ice hockey at the top level has a rough house reputation but Scotford points out that image only applies to mens ice hockey.
"The women play under different rules to the men and there isn't the same contact," she said.
"We are more about strategy and skill."
With little government assistance available, how do players fund their career?
"We all work to pay our way," Scotford said.
"The gold medal will help lift our profile and assist with national fundraising."
Moving up a division puts the team into the realm of the top ice hockey nations including Canada and the Scandanavian countries.
Australia will try out in North America next year for a place at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.