GIVEN it is almost 10 months since Great Britain sealed their memorable promotion to the elite level of the world game, head coach Pete Russell has had to wait some time before being able to gather his players together once again.
The gold medal won in such thrilling fashion in Budapest last April means GB will be up against some of the world’s very top talent in Slovakia this May when they will find themselves facing off against the likes of Canada, the USA and Finland, while 2018 Olympic silver medallists Germany, hosts Slovakia and France will also provide tough tests.
It is 25 years since Britain last competed at this level.
Sheffield Steelers’ defencemen Davey Phillips and Ben O’Connor along with goalie Jackson Whistle and forward Jonathan Phillips are part of a 25-man squad assembled in Coventry this week to begin preparations in earnest for what is likely to be the biggest week of their playing careers.
Steelers’ team-mate Robert Dowd was also named in the original squad but is currently out injured for up to two more weeks.
A two-day camp at Coventry’s SkyDome Arena is preparing players for tonight’s warm-up game against Dinamo Riga from the KHL – one of the world’s top leagues.
It is hoped that the speed and skill of the Latvian team – most of whom play for their national side and who will also be in Slovakia – will give GB’s players an indication of what to expect once they get their campaign underway against Group A rivals Germany in Kosice on May 11.
Defenceman Phillips, recently returned from an eight-week injury lay-off, believes preparations for this year’s championships will be more intense than ever before.
“Training camps like this can only be a positive as it gives us a chance to work on our lines, our special teams and our overall chemistry – that can only make us stronger as a unit,” said Phillips.
“Every year the GB program has tried to build on the previous campaign and that will be even more the case this year. We’ve got a few more weeks preparation than usual and we will need all the preparation we can get because it is going to be a tough, tough challenge. It is a great achievement to have got to the top level and we’ve got to go there and relish what is a massive opportunity.
We’ve got a few more weeks preparation than usual and we will need all the preparation we can get because it is going to be a tough, tough challenge.Davey Phillips
“It’s going to be a big step up in May – we’ve just got to embrace it.”
Further warm-up games for GB are scheduled for April against Italy and Hungary, as well as an extra challenge match against KHL opposition in the form of Russian side Torpedo.