Cancellation of world championships over coronavirus no surprise to Sheffield Steelers’ Jonathan Phillips

THE weekend announcement that the World Championships were to be cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic may have come as no surprise to Jonathan Phillips, but there was still a sense of disappointment.
NO GO: Jonathan Phillips, in action as Great Britain captain at last year's world championships in Slovakia. Picture: Dean Woolley.NO GO: Jonathan Phillips, in action as Great Britain captain at last year's world championships in Slovakia. Picture: Dean Woolley.
NO GO: Jonathan Phillips, in action as Great Britain captain at last year's world championships in Slovakia. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Given the alarming swiftness with which various sports events and seasons all over the world have either been postponed, shut down or cancelled in the past fortnight, it was always going to be a matter of when not if the International Ice Hockey Federation pulled the plug on their annual, flagship event.

This time, it was the turn of Switzerland to play host, staging the event in Zurich and Lausanne between May 8-24, but the chance to showcase the best in world hockey has now passed, with Belarus and Latvia scheduled to share the tournament in 2021.

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Given his own Sheffield Steelers team had seen their domestic season shut down earlier than scheduled 10 days ago for the exact same reason, Phillips had merely been waiting for confirmation that his chance to represent Great Britain at another major tournament would be denied.

“It wasn’t a surprise at all,” said 37-year-old Phillips, captain for both club and country. “I think we were all 99.5 per cent certain that it was going to be cancelled.

“But, even so, it was still extremely disappointing because it was a little bit of something for us to hold on to and work towards in the sense that we could get back to playing hockey soon.

“But 100 per cent, it was the right decision.”

Great Britain's players celebrate Ben Davies's overtime winner against France at last year's world championships. Picture: Dean Woolley.Great Britain's players celebrate Ben Davies's overtime winner against France at last year's world championships. Picture: Dean Woolley.
Great Britain's players celebrate Ben Davies's overtime winner against France at last year's world championships. Picture: Dean Woolley.

For Phillips and his team-mates, Lausanne – where their Group A games against the likes of Canada and Sweden were to be staged at this year’s championships – represented a second opportunity to mix it with the world’s elite.

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Last year, in Slovakia, having produced two successive gold medal promotions to return to the top tier for the first time in 25 years, nobody had given head coach Pete Russell’s team a chance of surviving.

Having lost their first six games, it looked like those predictions were spot on as GB headed into their final game to take on France, a team who had remained with the elite since 2008.

But despite trailing 3-0 with more than half the game gone, Russell’s team produced a truly miraculous comeback, drawing level before Ben Davies scored an overtime winner.

Jonathan Phillips. Picture: Dean Woolley.Jonathan Phillips. Picture: Dean Woolley.
Jonathan Phillips. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Phillips himself played a crucial role in that winning strike, skating the length of the ice to beat his French opponent to the puck before swivelling round to lay on the pass for Davies.

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And it is because of memorable moments like that that Phillips and his GB team-mates were left so deflated at the weekend.

“We got a taste for it last year,” added Phillips. “It was a dream of everybody’s to play at the highest level that we could possibly play at. We reached that in Slovakia, coming up against some of the world’s best players and had an absolute ball and loved every single second of it and so we were desperately wanting to experience that again.

“Over the years, we’ve put so much effort, focus, drive and commitment into the national team as players and coaches that it becomes addictive and you want to keep being there, you want to keep going back and playing in these tournaments every year.

“So that is where the disappointment comes in because we were all looking forward to it so much.”

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