IIHF World Championships: How Great Britain aim to use their pride and passion in Tampere to upset the odds once again
As in those previous ‘Pool A’ experiences, the primary objective for head coach Pete Russell’s team is a simple one: avoid relegation.
That is in no way meant to belittle the GB team, it is simply a reality. A measure of the tough task that lies ahead of them in order to achieve that main aim will arrive with Saturday’s opening game against the Czech Republic.
Ranked seventh in the world – 11 places above GB – it is not a game Russell’s team are expected or expecting to win, but it will quickly get them up to speed – quite literally – with the relentless world-class quality heading their way in the subsequent days with similarly difficult encounters scheduled against Sweden, USA and Finland.
Games against Latvia and Norway – ranked 11th and 12th respectively – offer greater hope of points but, both teams will face-off against GB as favourites.
For many, however, it is the final game of their Group B campaign on May 23 that offers the biggest hope of helping them retain their top-tier status when they take on Austria, ranked just one place above them.
But there is an area where few teams can match the GB team. Something which, captain Jonathan Phillips says, stems directly from their head coach.
Ever since Russell stepped up to take charge of the team back in 2014, he has instilled a pride and passion among his players that has served them well.
It’s the ingredient that enabled them to produce the most stunning of comebacks in their first year back in the top tier when, 3-0 down against France in their final group game, they ended up winning 4-3 in overtime to secure another year among the elite.
“Pete is someone the players can easily get behind and I think his biggest asset to the national team is his pride and passion,” said Sheffield Steelers’ forward Phillips.
“Obviously he’s very knowledgeable with his systems and gets us all playing the right way, but the way that he does that is purely down to his own pride, his own passion.
“He gets every single one of his players, he understands them, he gets to know them, he’s a great man-manager and when you see a coach invest in a team and be as proud as he is in that team, it becomes very infectious.
“We always had that passion in us, but when Pete took over he kind of gave us that identity and it rolled from there.”
Although four warm-up games against Group A’s Denmark and Italy all ended in defeat – including an 8-0 loss to an impressive Danish team – Phillips insists the training camp has been invaluable ahead of a hectic schedule of seven games in 10 days.
“Preparation is key,” added Phillips, who is joined on the GB roster by Steelers’ team-mates David Phillips, Rob Dowd, Evan Mosey and Sam Jones. “We’ve known ever since we came up how difficult it is going to be but we also know and believe we can stay at this level with hard work, determination and self-belief.
“Obviously, there are no easy games, every team you play is full of superstars and millionaires, but that’s the fun part of it for us. We’ve always said we want to see how we match up with those guys – we enjoy being the underdog.”
Last year in Riga, the Czech Republic enjoyed a 6-1 win over a British line-up denied it’s chief motivator in Russell who was unable to attend the tournament for personal reasons, although he remained closely involved from afar while his assistants Adam Keefe and Corey Neilson took charge on the ground.
But GB still upset the odds by picking up four points with a regulation win over Belarus – replaced for this year’s tournament by Austria due to the ongoing invasion of Ukraine – and a point in a 3-2 overtime loss to Denmark.
It was another significant step forward for the GB team, something they are looking to build on further this time around.
“It’s probably going to come down to that last fixture against Austria, but who knows?,” added Phillips. “We proved last year when we took Slovakia to 2-1, then beat Belarus and then just lost in OT to Denmark.
“If things fall into place – and we’ve got the system in place that we know can be disruptive – then anything can happen.”