Miracle is one of my favourite hockey movies and covers one of my favourite stories in hockey history.
From Thursday 7th February 2013, the GB Ice Hockey team will be playing in Latvia with the goal of qualifying for the next winter Olympics. Not quite “Miracle on ice 2” should it happen but not far from it. Why? Let me explain.
Great Britain won an Olympic Bronze medal in 1924, a Gold in 1936 and earned 5th place in 1948.
From 1952-2002 however, the team have failed to qualify for the Winter Olympics.
They did not even participate in the qualifying for 2006 and 2010, with lack of funding being an issue.
In the last ten years Team GB have hovered between 26th-21st (out of 47 nations) in the IIHF rankings, consistently competing in Division 1 of the World Championships but hardly pulling up any tree’s.
Back in November of 2012, Team GB headed to Japan to compete in the Olympic Pre-Qualification .
Despite losing the first game 5-4 to the lowest seed in Group J, namely Korea , they bounced back to defeat Romania 3-0 and Japan 2-1.
With other results going their way, Team GB won the group and advanced to the final Olympic Qualification Tournament.
A big help in trying to achieve the next goal is the securing of a $100,000 (U.S.) grant by the British Olympic Association from the International Olympic Committee’s Olympic Solidarity World Programme to support Ice Hockey UK.
The BOA applied for the grant in 2012 and received word from the International Olympic Committee this month.
The entire grant will be directed to Ice Hockey UK and will be utilised to help defray expenses associated with team training camps, travel for competition and other costs associated with the ongoing effort to qualify for the Games.
In Latvia, Team GB will face their hosts seeded (11), France (14) and Kazakhstan (17).
If Team GB top this group, they will be competing in the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.
It would be a great achievement for a country where hockey is by far a minority sport and according to the IIHF website, just under 1500 male professional hockey players play.
Goes without saying that qualification would be a huge boost for the game in the UK, you cannot buy the kind of exposure that an Olympic provides, especially at the Winter Olympics where GB athletes are few and far between.
There has already been some impact with improved coverage from the media since this pre-qualifying victory.
The BBC announced that they would be covering the three upcoming games live on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra. Live commentary of all three games will be provided by Seth Bennett, plus reporter Nick Hope will cover the tournament providing news, features and interviews.
Even better news is that there will be TV coverage as ESPN have picked up the rights for the three games
The first two games will be shown live with the 3rd being shown live if Team GB still holds a chance of qualification, and on delay if not.
As much as I can’t personally stand ESPN, kudos to them on this occasion.
So a little about some of those important guys involved on the ice.
Team GB are coached by Tony Hand who is player/coach of the Manchester Phoenix in the British Elite League. You may have heard of him as he was the first ever British born and bred player to be drafted in the NHL. Picked last overall by the Edmonton Oilers in 1986, he survived a full training camp with Gretzky and Messier. One of the most talented British players ever to hit the ice in the UK, his amazing stats speak for themselves. You can find them here http://www.eliteprospects.com/player.php?player=20964&lang=en
Hand has been a player coach for 10 years and signed a four year deal to coach Team GB at the end of 2011. Certainly made one hell of a start to his International coaching career.
Colin Shields is another name that might be familiar to you.
Shields started his career in North America and played for Cleveland Jr. Barons in the NAHL for two seasons. He became the second British born player to be drafted when he was a sixth-round pick for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft. Shields opted to attend and play for the University of Maine for three seasons, finishing as the top scorer for the 2003–04 season with 18 goals. He also averaged a point per game that season.
Defenseman Ben O’Connor currently plays his hockey in Kazakhstan for Arlan Kokshetau.
He’s having a good year racking up 24 points in 27 games, in his second season for Arlan.
He spent his youth playing OPJHL and OHL for Windsor Spitfires and Mississauga Icedogs.
Having dual nationality he returned to the UK to continue his career before heading to Kazakhstan.
Robert Dowd is plying his trade for Swedish side Troja-Ljungby this season. It’s his first season playing outside the UK and comes after being the Elite league’s leading points scorer last year. He is a three-time EIHL champion in the four previous seasons, with Sheffield twice and Belfast last season.
It’s a big ask for Team GB to qualify but you have to be in it to win it.
Herb Brookes said “Great moments are born from great opportunities.”
This is certainly in that category.
Thursday 07 Feb 2013, 17:30 GMT v Latvia
Friday 08 Feb 2013, 13:30 GMT v France
Sunday 10 Feb 2013, 11:00 GMT v Kazakhstan