Home comforts should aid GB's World Championships promotion bid in Belfast

JONATHAN PHILLIPS insists Great Britain's players can only benefit from playing in front of a home crowd as they get their latest World Championship Division 1B bid underway in Belfast tomorrow.

Jonathan Phillips, in action against Poland last weekend in Coventry. Picture: Scott Wiggins/IHUK.

After two near-misses in recent years, Pete Russell’s team will look to end their wait to return to the second tier of international hockey with a gold medal at the SSE Arena next Saturday.

With a tough schedule of five games in seven days, the hosts – enjoying home status at a senior world event for the first time since 1992 in Hull – begin their bid for glory against Croatia tomorrow afternoon.

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Further contests await against Estonia, Lithuania, the Netherlands and Japan, the latter opponents thought to be their main threat to a gold medal.

GB have had narrowly missed out on promotion in the last two years, having been forced to settle for a silver medal, but Sheffield Steelers’ captain Phillips is determined to go one better this time around.

“It will make a nice change to have a home crowd behind us,” said Phillips. “Hopefully we’ll have the officials behind us too!”

“We’ve been so close these last two years, slipping at that final hurdle – but this year, as we do every year, we go in with the aim of winning the gold medal and getting promotion.

I think the teams we are up against this year have all improved, but so have we.

“As we showed last year, we got a little complacent against Estonia and ended up winning in overtime and if we’d finished that game in regulation, that last game against Ukraine would have seen it go down to goal difference and they would have had to beat us by a lot more than the 2-1 scoreline which it ended up at.

“It shows how those little differences matter and how focused you need to be 100 per cent of the time.”

Rotherham-born netminder Ben Bowns, who plays for Steelers’ Elite League rivals, Cardiff Devils, added: “It’s a tough group we’ve got and I think it’s a better group than we’ve had in the past two years, but that can only be good for us and make sure we win that gold this time.”