Support for Team GB is vital to realising Sochi hopes

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ASHLEY Tait says everything possible must be done to ensure Great Britain have the best chance of realising their Winter Olympics dream.

The Sheffield Steelers’ veteran was part of the TeamGB squad which returned from Japan at the weekend having reached the final qualifying stage for Sochi 2014.

Tony Hand’s team head to the Latvian capital of Riga in early February as rank outsiders to qualify for what would be their first Winter Olympics appearance since 1948, when they finished fifth. Back then, Britain was one of the world’s leading ice hockey nations, winning a gold medal in Germany in 1936 and a bronze 12 years earlier.

Currently, they are ranked 21st in the world and will come up against hosts ranked 10 places above them in the IIHF rankings.

France (14) and Kazakhstan (17) are the other nations facing Britain meaning little will be expected of a nation who didn’t even take part in qualification for the 2006 games in Italy due to a lack of funds. Not that the underdog tag will do anything to dent the British team’s belief that they can make a positive impact in Riga next year.

“I don’t think any of us will be going out there thinking everything is a foregone conclusion,” said Tait, who now has 89 caps to his name. “You never go anywhere to make up the numbers, if you do that then there’s no point in going.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been away with such a tight bunch of guys – that’s not taking anything away from previous tournaments, it’s just that there was a real togetherness with this group.

“As a group, we want to go to Latvia and give a really good account of ourselves and give ourselves the best possible chance to qualify – you never know. In order to do that we need as much help as possible from the people upstairs.

“We’ve got three months before we go and we need to be getting together regularly before then as a squad, not leaving it until the Monday before we go away.”

It remains to be seen what the powers-that-be at Ice Hockey UK will come up with to aid their team’s Sochi bid but, in the meantime Tait, 37, returns to action tonight with the Steelers when they travel to Nottingham Panthers in the Challenge Cup, before a home match at Ice Sheffield against Fife Flyers follows on Sunday (6pm).

Both Sheffield and Nottingham, along with Coventry Blaze and Hull Stingrays, have already sealed qualification from Group B for the quarter-finals so little is riding on the clash at the National Ice Centre other than vying for the best seeding, with the Steelers currently in the boxseat.

“This game still matters – it’s Nottingham,” said Tait, who spent the early part of his career with the Panthers. “Winning is a habit and, before the international break, we were doing quite well at that so we want that to continue.”

Twitter: @PHarrisonYP