COLIN Shields believes Great Britain’s ice hockey team should be given more credit as it embarks on its latest Olympic adventure.
Currently 21st in the world, Britain - who turned down the opportunity to host the tournament - is the highest-ranked team at the Olympic Pre-Qualification event in Nikko, Japan, fighting it out with Romania, South Korea and the hosts for a place in the next round.
In 1936, Britain won Olympic gold in ice hockey, adding to a bronze it had won in 1924. Back then, ice hockey was a far more popular sport but it has been a long time since people expected any kind of similar success from the national side.
The odds may remain long on Britain participating at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics - more so from the second and final qualifying stage held in Germany next February - but Sheffield Steelers’ forward Shields, who could reach 50 points for his country while in the Far East, believes the GB team deserves more recognition for the progress it has made in recent years.
“It’s a great opportunity for us,“ said Shields, who has hit form at just the right time, scoring seven goals and five assists in his last six games for the Steelers. “It would be great if we can take it to the next stage and show people that we can be a force to be reckoned with and that hockey in the UK is getting better and the standard of the British players is too.
“A couple of years ago in the world championships we were just a couple of goals away from making it to the top tier in world hockey and I don’t think people gave us much credit at the time.
“This year we went away to Slovenia in what was a really tough group. But we came fourth in the group which we were pretty happy about because it showed people that we are still making strides.”
Head coach Tony Hand’s team flew out to Japan on Monday night and begin their campaign on Friday (5am UK time) against South Korea, currently ranked 28th in the world. Saturday brings Romania (27) before Sunday’s showdown with Japan, the match many people believe will determine who goes through.
The most recent meeting between the two went very much in favour of the hosts, who beat GB 5-0 in the World Championships in Slovenia back in April. Britain have only beaten Japan once in the last seven meetings, a 4-3 win at the same venue at the 2007 World Championships.
On paper, the first two games should be a formality for Hand’s team but, as Shields stressed, he and his team-mates need to ensure they will still have everything to play for when the two favourites to progress from Group J face-off on the third and final day.
“We can’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We need to make sure we take care of business in our first two games to give ourselves some kind of opportunity against Japan,” added Shields, who is joined in the GB squad by Steelers’ team-mates Danny Meyers, Mark Thomas, Jason Hewitt, Ashley Tait and Jonathan Phillips.
“Japan are a well-drilled team, they’re well-coached and always well-prepared - they stick to their system and work hard every shift. They’ll probably be thinking the same thing in that we will be their toughest test in that last game.
“Hopefully, that will be the case as this is definitely one of the strongest rosters I’ve been on (in my GB career). We’ve got lot of depth and our defence is probably as strong as its ever been.”
Great Britain’s women lost their first game at the Olympic pre-qualifiers in Group E in China, going down 7-0 to France, the last four goals coming in the third and final period.
Coach Simon Manning said: “The girls played two periods of great hockey, followed by a frustrating third.”