NETMINDER Ben Bowns believes his rapid education in the Elite League with Hull Stingrays will only help him stand tall should he be called on by his country in their bid to make the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The Rotherham-born goaltender has had something of a baptism of fire in East Yorkshire since his move up from the Sheffield Steeldogs in the English Premier League last summer.
Stingrays find themselves bottom of the overall Elite League standings, as they struggle to find consistency in a bid to make the end-of-season play-offs.
And while Hull battle it out with Gardiner Conference rivals Dundee Stars in a pivotal double-header this weekend, their first-choice stopper will be in Latvia where the Great Britain team are striving to reach a first Games since 1948.
Great Britain have gone into the event as clear outsiders, ranked 21st in the world. Their opening day opponents and hosts are 10 places above them in the IIHF rankings, while later opponents France and Kazakhstan are also considered top-tier nations.
An injury to first-choice GB netminder Stephen Murphy left understudy Bowns in a straight shoot-out for the starting berth with Basingstoke Bison’s Stevie Lyle, who was called out of international retirement by head coach Tony Hand to help fill the gap left by the unfortunate Murphy.
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And on Thursday morning, Hand opted for the experienced hands of Lyle for the opener, rather than throwing Bowns in for his starting debut in one of the biggest matches Britain has faced in more than 60 years.
But regardless of whether he gets his coveted start over the next four days, Bowns insists he’s ready to make the step up to senior level action as and when required.
“It’s been another big step up for me going to Hull from the EPL,” said Bowns.
“The first game I played in was against Nottingham which was a bit of an eye opener, but I enjoy playing in this league it’s a better level of hockey, it’s a lot faster and you’ve got to be alert all the time.
“Obviously the EPL is a better league than what it used to be, as is the Elite League. You’re always having to push yourself more and more as a goaltender and that can only help you get better for when the start for GB comes along.
“It’s been a good, quick education for me in Hull and with me being British as well it brings a little more pressure. But that’s good because British goalies don’t have a great reputation - there’s only really Murph and Lyle that’s done well for themselves.
“So maybe I’m under the spotlight more because of that and, maybe if I do well, it might open up a few more opportunities for other British goalies.”
After a promising career at junior level on the international stage, Bowns made the step up to the senior squad at last year’s World Championship campaign in Slovenia, where he was an unused reserve.
A further call-up followed in November when the team succeeded in the Olympic pre-qualification tournament held in Japan. Such experiences have only whetted the 22-year-old’s appetite to get that first senior start under his belt.
“It would be massive for me to get that first start,” said Bowns. “I’ve been in the senior team set-up for a while now and been to two world championships.
“I’ve just got to keep doing what I’ve been doing and make sure I’m ready to step up if the chance comes along.
“It’s going to be tough to qualify and we know we’re going in as underdogs. But this team has got such a good spirit, it’s a really tight-knit group which helps you get through the tough times.”