Pete Russell’s team – who have silenced the doubters with memorable achievements at three successive World Championship tournaments – enjoy home ice advantage in this week’s pre-qualifying tournament for China 2022 held at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre, which gets underway today.
Romania are the first opponent for the hosts tonight, with Estonia and Hungary the other two nations taking part, the group winner progressing through to the final round of qualification in late August.
Most people expect Sunday night’s showdown between GB and Hungary to be where the Group J winner will be decided – the two rivals having plenty of recent history between them – but Sheffield Steelers’ defenceman Phillips insists the host nation cannot afford to take anything for granted against their other opponents.
“We’ve just got to make sure we use home ice to our advantage,” said Phillips, who is joined on the GB roster by fellow Steelers Ben O’Connor, Jonathan Phillips and Brendan Connolly. “The fans and the fact that everybody has played at the NIC so many times, we have to make sure that counts for something.
“Every team you play at international level, they are all tough. Everybody else is playing for their country too so you’ve got that pride element to compete against as much as anything else, which is something we know all about.
“We can’t take anything for granted and need to make sure we take care of business on Thursday and Saturday to make sure we go into that last game knowing a win takes us through.”
The last time GB enjoyed home ice advantage came three years ago in Belfast in the third tier of the World Championships, where they put two years of final-day misery behind them to clinch gold at the third attempt.
It was the catalyst for two more years of remarkable success, with a second straight gold and promotion coming the following year after a final-day win over hosts Hungary in Budapest.
That stunning triumph saw GB return to the top tier for the first time since 1994 and for most of the week it looked like they would match their predecessors from 25 years earlier and come straight back down without winning a game.
But, in a remarkable performance from Russell’s team, they produced an even bigger shock, coming from 3-0 down against France in their final game, to win 4-3 in overtime and retain their place at the top table, sending their opponents down in the process.
“That tournament in Belfast got the ball rolling for us as a team and we managed to get the job done (at the third attempt) and get promoted,” said Phillips. “Home ice advantage did certainly help and we’ve got to use experiences like that to make sure we can make it work for us in Nottingham.
“We need to embrace the fact it’s a tournament on home ice. It’s not very often that we get that opportunity. In Belfast, I remember back then everybody enjoyed it so much. We usually go off to all these different countries and while we take always take a big following of fans wherever we go and they make a great noise, there are definitely going to be a lot more this week cheering us on in Nottingham.”
And should it come down to a winner-takes-all scenario on Sunday evening, in the final game of the tournament, Hungary will not be short of incentive to upset the host nation, as Phillips is all too aware.
“I’m sure they’ve got a desire to take revenge after we beat them the way we did,” he added. “Either way, it is going to be a tough few days.”