Altofts ice hockey talent Daragh Spawforth set to realise GB dream at Winter Youth Olympics in Gangwon

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DARAGH SPAWFORTH is preparing to live the dream as he heads off to South Korea to represent Great Britain’s ice hockey team at the Winter Youth Olympics.

The 15-year-old, from Altofts, has been chosen for the GB Under-16 team that will play a 3-on-3 tournament at the Games, which will be held in Gangwon from January 19-31.

He has battled his way through a rigorous selection process which began just after Christmas last year, with an initial group of over 70 players being whittled down to the 13 who will now head off in search of an OIympic medal.

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GB will go head-to-head with Austria, China, Denmark, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Poland and Spain in the round-robin stages, with the top four teams progressing to the semi-finals.

The major difference from 3-on-3 to regular ice hockey - such as that played by the likes of the Sheffield Steelers and Leeds Knights - is that teams have just three skaters plus a goalie, as opposed to the five skaters and a goalie.

The Steelers and Knights use 3-on-3 when games that are not decided in the regulation 60 minutes go to overtime.

In Gangwon the shortened format – first used at the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games in Switzerland – will see cross-ice matches taking place simultaneously.

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Daragh, who attends St Wilfrids Catholic High School in North Featherstone, has grown up playing ice hockey since the age of seven for Bradford Bulldogs, where he currently captains their Under-16 and Under-18 teams.

OLYMPIC DREAM: Daragh Spawforth, from Altofts, is heading to South Korea as part of the Great Britain Under-16 3-on-3 team that will compete at the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics in January. Picture courtesy of Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.OLYMPIC DREAM: Daragh Spawforth, from Altofts, is heading to South Korea as part of the Great Britain Under-16 3-on-3 team that will compete at the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics in January. Picture courtesy of Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.
OLYMPIC DREAM: Daragh Spawforth, from Altofts, is heading to South Korea as part of the Great Britain Under-16 3-on-3 team that will compete at the 2024 Winter Youth Olympics in January. Picture courtesy of Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.

He has represented the Bulldogs at regional level at various age groups and has also played for England in a number of tournaments in recent years.

But representing GB under the Olympic banner is understandably his proudest moment so far.

“I just feel really proud to have been selected,” said Daragh. “It will be a privilege to pull on that jersey.

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“The selection process has been quite long. We started these trials 11 months ago and the whole process has been challenging at times because the coaches have pushed players to the limit to demonstrate their abilities.

BIG MOMENT: Daragh Spawforth has played his junior hockey at Bradford Bulldogs since the age of seven.BIG MOMENT: Daragh Spawforth has played his junior hockey at Bradford Bulldogs since the age of seven.
BIG MOMENT: Daragh Spawforth has played his junior hockey at Bradford Bulldogs since the age of seven.

“I imagine the final selection for coaches must have been difficult as there was some great talent available to them.

“This is my first chance to represent GB at ice hockey, that’s why it is so special to me. The fact it is on an Olympic stage makes it doubly special.”

Daragh is quick to acknowledge the help and support he has received from his family, as well as coaches and team-mates along the way.

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“Bradford was the nearest junior club at the time and ever since I first entered that rink I have loved every minute,” he added. “The club has given me every opportunity to develop on the ice.

LEAD ROLE: Daragh Spawforth is captain of Bradford Bulldogs' Under-16 and Under-18 teams. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.LEAD ROLE: Daragh Spawforth is captain of Bradford Bulldogs' Under-16 and Under-18 teams. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.
LEAD ROLE: Daragh Spawforth is captain of Bradford Bulldogs' Under-16 and Under-18 teams. Picture: Andy Bourke/Podium Prints.

“My school has been great in supporting me, too, in allowing me to attend the trials over the past months.

“There have been a lot of people involved in getting me to the position where I can do this - my parents, my club coaches at Bradford, in particular Andy Brown and Kirsten Deighton.

“Then there are coaches who have supported me through the player pathway and obviously the GB coaches who have seen something in me to give me this opportunity.”

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On the team’s chances out in Gangwon, Daragh is hopeful that GB can spring a few surprises.

“We have a good team with some of the best players in the country at this age group,” he said. “The players have some good chemistry on the ice and compliment each other well in terms of our styles of play. I think we stand a good chance of surprising some of our competition.

“There are some established hockey nations there but I am confident that we can step up to the plate and demonstrate that we are just as strong.”

Andy Brown, head coach at Bradford Bulldogs and also an assistant coach with GB Under-18s, said the whole club were extremely proud of him being selected.

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“It’s a fantastic achievement,” he said. “Daragh thoroughly deserves this because of the commitment, hard work and time he puts into his hockey.

“I fully expect him to play a big role out there for GB, we’ll be keeping an eye out on how he and the team are doing and it is going to be an experience that he’ll remember for the rest of his life.”

The GB team has former Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers and GB defenceman Danny Meyers as head coach, who admitted the selection process had been tough.

“It was important for us to differentiate the players from their three-on-three game to their five-on-five game,” said Meyers.

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“A lot of thought went into the decision of the final team and we believe that we have assembled a group of players that will shine at different times when called upon, which gives us the flexibility in the team that we need.

“The games are just under two months away but that still gives us time to fine-tune our preparations. As a coaching staff, we have the upmost confidence in these players and we trust them.”