GREAT BRITAIN are capable of springing a surprise in their opening World Championship game against Germany, according to former national coach Paul Thompson.
The 52-year-old former Sheffield Steelers and Coventry Blaze head coach spent the majority of the 2018-19 season in the DEL coaching the Schwenninger Wild Wings, giving him the inside track on a Germany team that takes all but a handful of its roster to Kosice, Slovakia, from its top domestic league.
Thompson took up his position with the Wild Wings in early November, just a few weeks after resigning at the Steelers. Despite overseeing an upturn in results in Schwenninger, he was unable to lift the team off the bottom of the 14-team league as they missed out on the playoffs.
Thompson was quickly snapped up for another season by the German club and is currently helping piece together what he believes will be a competitive roster for the 2019-20 campaign.
But, like any other British hockey fan over the next 10 days or so, Thompson - head coach of the men's national team from 2006-2011 - will be taking a keen interest in seeing how Pete Russell's players fare after returning to the top tier of the world game for the first time since 1994.
Like most observers, Thompson expects GB to endure a testing 12 days in Slovakia, particuarly when facing the likes of Canada, Finland and the USA, but he believes they are capable of getting the necessary results to ensure they remain in the elite group for 2020.
"Yes I do believe GB can do enough to stay up," said Thompson. "They’ve got to stay disciplined because of the speed factor, but Slovakia last weekend was the perfect warm-up game for them. I know they got beat 6-1 but it doesn’t matter about the result, it was about getting used to the speed and the skill they are going to come up against over there.
"So to have that kind of game against a top-10 nation like Slovakia and to see the speed and skill with which they play was perfect heading into this game. Germany won’t skate any better than Slovakia, but they are a good, mobile team and hockey at an elite level is quick, very quick."
Germany - Olympic silver medallists in 2018 - will rightly go into Saturday afternoon's encounter as clear favourites, led by Edmonton Oilers forward Leon Draisaitl who enjoyed a remarkable 2018-19 NHL campaign when scoring 50 goals and 55 assists in a team which didn't even come close to making the Stanley Cup play-offs.
Thompson has seen first hand from the Schwenninger bench the kind of serious talent that will surround Draisaitl over the next few days, but believes all the pressure will be on the world No 8 team.
"On paper, they should be by far the stronger team - but that is on paper and paper doesn’t win you hockey games," added Thompson. "And I think the strength of GB is that they don’t really have any superstars. What they have more than enough of is a togetherness and a great team spirit, that much is obvious.
"There is an equality throughout the roster that makes them strong and the core has been there since my time in charge and I think that is a real, real strength.
"The DEL is of a higher level than the Elite League. It’s quicker, it’s a little more heavier and physical. One of the major differences between the DEL and the EIHL, is that the UK tends to get imports coming down from the DEL and elsewhere a lot of the imports in Germany are still on their way up.
"All those homegrown players are from the top echelons of the DEL and a very high calibre indeed, that is why they’re in the team. It’s going to be a great test for our boys, but it is a one-off game.
"We’re going to be super-excited, Ben (Bowns, goaltender) has maybe got to have a career-game and stand on his head, but I genuinely think we can cause trouble for the German team."