GB capable of producing surprises in Budapest

GB defenceman, Ben O'Connor. Picture: Dean Woolley.
GB defenceman, Ben O'Connor. Picture: Dean Woolley.
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BEN O’CONNOR is convinced Great Britain have the tools at their disposal to cause a few surprises at the World Championships in Budapest this week.

Head coach Pete Russell’s side begin their Division 1A campaign against pre-tournament favourites Slovenia at lunchtime today.

The Slovenians - who played at the recent Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang - were relegated to the second tier of international competition last year, while GB were promoted via their gold medal-winning exploits in Belfast.

On paper, it should be a win for the former Yugoslav republic, but Sheffield Steelers’ defenceman O’Connor, is adamant he and his team-mates can upset the odds in Hungary.

“Slovenia are are going to be taking us for granted,” said O’Connor, who is joined in the 23-man GB squad by Steelers’ team-mates, Jonathan Phillips, Robert Dowd, Davey Phillips and Liam Kirk. “They were playing in the Olympics recently and were up there with the big boys. So they’ve done well and when they play us they’re going to be confident they can turn us over.

“But we’re going to surprise a few people because we’ve got a lot of good forwards, a solid back end and good goaltending.”

GB forward, Liam Kirk. Picture: Dean Woolley.

GB forward, Liam Kirk. Picture: Dean Woolley.

O’Connor said the team won’t be lacking in preparation ahead of their opening game, given the hard work put in by Russell and his assistants, Corey Neilson and Adam Keefe.

“Pete done a fantastic job since he took over,” added O’Connor. “He has great support staff in Corey and Adam - they are both very smart and they know their stuff.

“They are very technical and we’ve got some good systems in place that we have ran through in training camp and going forward, everything is very positive.

“We’re well-organised, well-structured so we’ll be ready when this tournament gets underway.”

Teenager Kirk, who is taking part in the NHL Entry Draft in June, is expected to make his competitive debut for the men’s senior team on Sunday and has, like everyone else, adjusted quickly to his surroundings for the next week or so after arriving in Budapest on Thursday.

The 18-year-old won the gold medal with GB at the Under-18 World Championship Division II Group A at the start of the month and says he has already noticed a massive difference in the two tournaments.

“Winning the gold medal was very special but this level of hockey is something else,” said Kirk.

“Just seeing the amount of media interest and the set-up here in the arena shows how important this tournament is.

“I have been welcomed into the dressing room by the team and it was useful that I have played with and against this guys this season.”