GB will revel in world championship underdog status, says KHL-bound O'Connor

BEN O'CONNOR insists there will be 'no pressure' on Great Britain going into next year's World Championships in Slovakia.

GB's players celebrate their gold medal success in Budapest last month. Picture: Dean Woolley
GB's players celebrate their gold medal success in Budapest last month. Picture: Dean Woolley

Tuesday saw the IIHF carry out the draw for next year’s elite division - formerly known as ‘Pool A’ - with Pete Russell and his players taking more interest in the proceedings than usual.

That was because of last month’s stunning gold-medal triumph in Division 1A when they overcame huge odds in Budapest to earn promotion along with silver medallists Italy to the top tier.

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It was a second straight promotion for GB and, after yesterday’s draw, means they will be facing off against international heavyweights such as Canada, USA and Finland in Kosice in 12 months time.

Also awaiting O’Connor and his team-mates in Group A will be this year’s Winter Olympic silver medallists Germany, hosts Slovakia, Denmark and France.

Sweden, who on Sunday defeated Switzerland 3-2 after a shoot-out to take this year’s gold medal in Copenhagen, have been drawn in Group B alongside Russia, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Norway, Latvia, Austria and Italy.

“We’re playing all the big boys and we wouldn’t want it any other way really,” said O’Connor, who it was revealed on Wednesday morning would be leaving Sheffield Steelers to play for the KHL's Barys Astana in 2018-2019. “It is what dreams are made of, to play against all those teams is going to be something special.

“We’ve been written off before and we’re used to it - but our goal is to stay up. Yes, we’re happy being there, but we want to make sure we stay there.

Sheffield Steelers and GB defenceman, Ben O'Connor. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“We want to be the team that everyone writes off again and hopefully we can do the unthinkable again - staying up has to be the goal.

“We enjoyed being the underdog in Budapest and we went in there with no pressure. The year before in Belfast there was pressure, but we managed to get better with each game and win gold.

“But last month there was no pressure and that showed out on the ice because we were full of determination and we were playing for each other.”

Traditionally, preparations for a GB team ahead of the annual world championships usually comprises of them getting together for a week or so at the end of the domestic season, during which time they will play a couple of warm-up games before heading out to begin the tournament.

There are, every year, international breaks which many European countries take advantage of. Last season, head coach Russell’s team were scheduled to have a get-together before Christmas but, for whatever reason, it never materialised.

O’Connor hopes that time and room can somehow be found next season for GB’s players to gain additional preparation time ahead of what will be the toughest challenge they have ever faced.

“Any time you have together as a team is good time,” added O’Connor. “We don’t have any time together during the season normally and I don’t know if that is going to change next season.

“We’ve never really had international breaks unless there has been an Olympic qualifier taking place. I know it is difficult with the amount of games that we play in the league, but maybe it is something that can be looked at, especially with us being in this group.

“To get to Pool A is something special and, while we’re happy being there, we want to make sure we stay there.”