During the Ice Hockey qualification tournament for the 2014 Winter Olympics, GB Men’s team came as close as they have done in recent history by making the last phase.
Facing Latvia (11), France (14) and Kazakhstan (17) was never going to be an easy task however and despite some promising moments, GB lost all three games and hosts Latvia won the group.
I’m sure we can remember how they fared in the Winter Olympics, winning a host of fans and admirers along the way.
All teams, bar the hosts and eight top seeds, will learn later this year which qualifying group they will placed in for the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in PyeongChang, Korea.
This makes the upcoming 2015 IIHF World Championship’s even more important, as the rankings for this year will decide all seeds for the Olympics.
GB will be contesting Division I Group B in Eindhoven, Netherlands, facing the 25th ranked hosts along with Korea(23), Croatia(28), Lithuania(26) and Estonia(29).
Great Britain will be the highest raked team, currently 22nd in the world and there should be high hopes for a medal of some colour at the very least.
Even a Gold medal and promotion would be unlikely to see them jump high enough to avoid Pre-Qualification but the ambition to host the group as the top seed for PQ should be motivation enough to do well.
GB will have a new coach in the shape of Peter Russell, his first time taking charge of the Men’s national team. Russell is Great Britain’s most successful junior coach and has won four gold’s, one silver and two bronze medals in 11 tournaments in charge of GB U20s and GB U18s.
His experience in these tournaments will doubtless hold him in good stead, while his determined and no nonsense coaching style will hold all players responsible for their actions. That’s something we’ve not seen from recent GB Men’s teams, who despite competing well at times, have lacked discipline when it really mattered and it‘s cost them dearly.
After being relegated in 2013 from Div. I Group A, having lost all five games and scoring just five times, GB finished fourth in this division last year, winning three and losing.
Russell has named a squad of 31 heading into two friendly international fixtures against Poland, 9-10 April, with the final 23 being announced shortly afterwards
The new coach tends to do things his way, not listening to calls from media or fans, for this player or that, and there are some interesting selections.
Back in come Russell Cowley and Craig Peacock, the latter had to miss the last World Championships through injury, while Matty Davies and David Clarke both miss out this time due to that reason.
The influx of younger players is perhaps the most controversy but most encouraging in my opinion.
Former GB U20 players in Josh Batch, James Griffin, Matt Haywood, Tom Murdy, Sam Oakford, Jack Prince, Joey Lewis and Liam Stewart are in the 31, as in Jonathan Boxill who was an U18 representative.
Hopefully in the run-up to the Olympic qualification in 2016, some more young talent can come through as GB start to showcase more promising young players and have success with their junior teams.
The U18’s have been contesting Div II Group A in recent times and after recording just four victories in the previous three years, finishing fourth on each occasion, just this weekend they took a step forward by winning bronze.
The U20 side is also on the rise having been relegated in 2012 from Div. I Group A.
The following year saw them win just one game but survive relegation before hosting their group in 2014 and making great strides forward.
They would have to beat Japan in the last game to make sure of survival but in earlier games had only lost to eventual Gold medallists Italy in overtime and beaten Bronze medallists France in a shootout.
Despite being relegated due to fielding an eligible player, 2015 saw them gain promotion immediately, winning every game, taken to overtime on just one occasion.
Great Britain haven’t looked as strong in depth of Men’s hockey for a long while and there should be some real optimism moving forward into these world championships and then the Olympic qualification phase.
World Championship (Division 1B) Eindhoven, 13th to 19th April 2015
13 Apr Great Britain v Croatia
14 Apr, Estonia v Great Britain
16 Apr, Korea v Great Britain
18 Apr, Great Britain v Netherlands
19 Apr, Lithuania v Great Britain
GB INITIAL 31-MAN SQUAD
Josh Batch – Cardiff Devils
Chris Blight – Dundee Stars
Jonathan Boxill – Nottingham Panthers
Ben Bowns – Cardiff Devils
Russell Cowley – Coventry Blaze
Ben Davies – Braehead Clan
Robert Dowd – Sheffield Steelers
Robert Farmer – Nottingham Panthers
Mark Garside – Belfast Giants
James Griffin – Coventry Blaze
Matt Haywood – Braehead Clan
Robert Lachowicz – Nottingham Panthers
Stephen Lee – Nottingham Panthers
Joey Lewis- EC Bad Tolz
Stevie Lyle – Swindon Wildcats
Sam McCluskey – Dundee Stars
Tom Murdy- Telford Tigers
Stephen Murphy – Belfast Giants
Matthew Myers – Cardiff Devils
Sam Oakford – Nottingham Panthers
Ben O’Connor – Sheffield Steelers
Craig Peacock – Belfast Giants
David Phillips – Belfast Giants
Jonathan Phillips – Sheffield Steelers
Jack Prince – University of Alabama-Huntsville
Mark Richardson – Cardiff Devils
Colin Shields – Belfast Giants
Liam Stewart – Spokane Chiefs
Paul Swindlehurst – Dundee Stars
Ashley Tait – Coventry Blaze
Jonathan Weaver – Telford Tigers