Ice Hockey and Great Britain may not be terms you would immediately associate but the Great British Ice Hockey team have shown consistent improvement in recent years. Obviously not on a par with the world elite like Canada, America and Finland, Great Britain have been competitive with other leading nations and recently completed their annual participation in the Ice Hockey World Championships.
Unlike other sports this tournament is an annual one and is divided into tiers. The leading division contains the 16 best sides in the world and then the worst two sides in that competition are relegated to Division I. Division I is split into Group A, the group whose top sides move to the elite tier with success in the tournament, and Group B, where Great Britain have been for 10 of the last 16 years.
Last year they finished narrow runners-up in Group B to South Korea and this year they were hoping that in Croatia they could secure promotion.
The opening game was against Croatia and Great Britain ran out impressive 4-1 winners and they then also went on to win their second game 4-3 in overtime against Estonia. Their most impressive performance came in their third game of the tournament, where they beat Lithuania 8-0, scoring six goals in the second period to completely blow away their Baltic opponents. Clinical was the operative word to describe their next game against Romania, where they scored twice in each period to win 6-1. This set up a title deciding game, the gold medal game against Ukraine, with promotion to Division 1A on the line.
The momentum seemed to be on the side of Great Britain as Ukraine had lost their last game to a Lithuanian side Britain had had no problems in dispatching but as always nothing is certain in sport. Forward Jonathan Phillips of the Sheffield Steelers opened the scoring for Britain in the second period to elevate hopes that they could win but the game would slip away from Britain during the third period. Ukraine picked up the intensity in that period and started to put some nice play together and scored twice, finishing 2-1 winners.
The defeat was crushing for that Britain squad and the silver medal for them will be no consolation at the moment for a disappointing defeat but they can take heart from their impressive tournament performance. They were highest scorers in the tournament, scoring 23 in five games and defenseman Ben O’Connor was named defenseman of the tournament, also finishing as top point scorer in the group.
Whilst the Elite Ice Hockey League is continuing to improve and increase in support in the UK, it does not have a huge fan base within the UK and largely Ice Hockey receives very little media attention. However, the Great Britain team showed over the last week that they are more than punching above their weight and that success could be on the way for them next year and that we should sit up and take note of our teams in sports that we may not expect to succeed in, because you never know what you might find.