GB handed tough IIHF 2021 World Championships opener against Russia in Riga
The 16-team tournament – split into two groups of eight – is set to run from May 21 to June 6 in Riga, Latvia.
Given no lower tier tournaments have taken place this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Pete Russell’s team are already guaranteed a third year in the top tier in 2022 as there will be no relegation this time around.
Two days later, Denmark are GB’s opponents before Belarus - originally joint hosts with Latvia until the tournament was switched to one venue due to concerns over political unrest in Minsk - provide the opposition on May 26.
The day after playing Sweden on May 28, the Czech Republic offer a further test for GB, who will finish their group campaign against Switzerland on June 1.
Group B consists of hosts Latvia, as well as Canada, Finland, Germany, Italy, Kazakhstan, Norway and the USA. Matches will be held in the main venue, Arena Riga.
With all teams due to be housed in one hotel and playing at two venues in near proximity, it will allow the possibility of a competition bubble concept if needed, much like the one seen at the World Juniors in Edmonton, Canada over Christmas and New Year.
While there are no relegation concerns for Russell’s team - they survived in dramatic circumstances two years ago on the final day of the group phase when coming from 3-0 down to beat France 4-3 in overtime – there is an ongoing concern over the squad’s preparations.
Half of the roster to play in last year’s Olympic Qualifying tournament in Nottingham have not played any competitive hockey since the sport was shut down because of the pandemic.
The proposed four-team mini-series featuring Elite League rivals Sheffield Steelers, Nottingham Panthers, Coventry Blaze and Manchester Storm is no longer going ahead after it transpired that government funding was only available in the form of loans.
It is hoped that some of the GB players will be able to get roster spots in the forthcoming Spring Cup, a five-team tournament featuring second tier NIHL National rivals Sheffield Steeldogs, Telford Tigers, Raiders IHC, Bees IHC and Swindon Wildcats.
But the concern is that such preparations will make life even tougher for GB when they come up against world-class players on the world stage.
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