Sheffield Steelers' Jonathan Phillips says fierce competition for places has Great Britain chomping at the bit ahead of IIHF World Championships
Head coach Pete Russell named a 32-strong long-list squad last month, one which has been whittled down to 23 ahead of today’s opening game in Division 1A against Korea at the Motorpoint Arena (7.30pm).
Phillips, who brought an end to his domestic professional playing career less than two weeks ago when Sheffield Steelers finished third in the Elite League play-offs, has been a permanent fixture in the GB set-up ever since making his debut back in 2003, when he was still with hometown team Cardiff Devils.
Over 100 international appearances later, Phillips heads to Nottingham looking to restore GB to the top-flight of the world game at the first attempt, having been part of the team relegated last year in Finland after three years among such elite company as powerhouse nations like Canada, Sweden and Finland.
While it would have been a surprise had Phillips not made the final cut, he never took anything for granted and knew he had to be at the top of his game in order to be a part of the roster lining up in Nottingham over the next seven days.
It has been a productive training camp, one that included four testing warm-up games for the hosts, encounters that produced two wins against Hungary and a win and a defeat against top-tier nation Latvia.
After today’s showdown with Korea, further tests await in the shape of Poland, Lithuania, Romania and, lastly, Italy, regarded by many as the hosts’ chief rivals for the gold medal.
And 40-year-old Phillips believes GB are as well prepared as they ever have been for a tournament.
“It’s been a really good training camp,” said Phillips. “All the sessions have been intense and competitive. First and foremost, competition for places was so high, probably the hardest it has ever been, so we all wanted to give the best account of ourselves and there were no guarantees for anybody.
“We seem to have the system down a lot better and a lot quicker than in previous years so it’s been fun so far. The new guys who have come in have fitted in really quickly and have bought into the team ethos that we have.”
Unlike in most of the recent world championship campaigns, GB won’t be regarded as an underdog in Nottingham, partly through being the tournament hosts. It is an unusual position for Russell’s players to find themselves in, but one which Phillips believes won’t prove to be a problem.
“Playing at home, we’ll obviously get that energy from the crowd which we really feed off,” added Phillips.
“But as we know from these tournaments in the past, if we’re not switched on then any advantage we may have from playing on home ice becomes irrelevant.
“We’ve always played great as underdogs and while we won’t be seen as underdogs in Nottingham - we have to realise our worth as well - we have to focus and work like we usually do, have that desperation that we have always had in our game. That is when we’re at our best.”