WATCH – Sheffield Steelers’ Rob Dowd out to prove GB can live with the best at World Championships

ROBERT DOWD admits the next two weeks in Slovakia are likely to prove the pinnacle of his hockey-playing career.

The 30-year-old Sheffield Steelers forward is part of the Great Britain squad competing at the top tier of the annual World Championships for the first time in 25 years.

The campaign for Pete Russell’s team begins tomorrow against 2018 Olympic silver medallists Germany in Kosice before a hectic schedule of seven games in 11 days brings them face-to-face with such heavyweights as Canada, Finland and the USA.

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When Russell’s unfancied team strolled into Budapest in April last year to compete in Division 1A after gaining a gold-medal promotion in Belfast in 2017 nobody would have expected them to repeat the trick.

But they did and in memorable style, too, bringing Dowd and his team-mates to the ice 12 months on to embark on surely the most difficult, yet ultimately exciting challenge of their careers.

“Ever since we won that gold medal it has been something that has been obviously pencilled in the diary and I’ve been looking forward to it all year,” said Dowd, who made his senior debut in 2008 during an Olympic pre-qualifying event in Poland for the 2010 winter games in Vancouver.

GAME ON: Sheffield Steelers forward Robert Dowd is aiming to show people in Slovakia that the British game is thriving. Picture: Dean Woolley.

“Playing against the best players in the world, and playing for your country as well while you’re doing it, is certainly a high honour and one that I will cherish for a long time.”

Dowd admitted that expectations were even lower for a GB team so often written off, but one that has shown itself capable of proving doubters wrong in recent years.

“This year we are everyone’s favourites to come straight back down – there is no point kidding ourselves – but we were last year too,” added the Billingham-born winger.

“We’re not going out to just be in awe of it all, though we are aiming to compete and try to make some waves. We also want to prove something to ourselves. “I really think British ice hockey is very much under-rated, so to go and prove a few people wrong and raise a few eyebrows is a definite goal of ours throughout this tournament.”

MAGIC MOMENT: Robert Dowd, centre, celebrates last year's gold medal success in Budapest with Steelers' team-mates Davey Phillips, left, Jonathan Phillips, Ben O'Connor and Liam Kirk. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Dowd got the hockey bug at an early age, a trip to watch GB enough to convince him that he wanted to follow in the footsteps of the players out on the ice in front of him.

“I was nine years old when my dad took me to a Great Britain game and then it was like ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ and I said ‘I want to be an ice hockey player for Great Britain,” recalled Dowd.

“So, obviously, when I first got picked for Great Britain it was such a huge, huge honour and something I’d looked forward to for a long, long time. It is something that I never take for granted.”

Dowd’s first call-up to the senior roster came back in 2008 when he was invited by then coach Paul Thompson to hook up with the team after impressing during an Elite League appearance for the Steelers against Coventry Blaze, then coached by the GB boss.

“It was about 10, maybe 11 years ago I think and I was playing for Sheffield Scimitars at the time and the Steelers had a midweek game, so I played for them and it was against Coventry Blaze,” added Dowd.

“I had a great game and I scored a nice goal and the next day Paul Thompson called me up and said ‘I liked what I saw last night when you played against my team, would you like to come on our next trip?’

“Obviously, I grabbed that with both hands and I haven’t let go since. It was one of the most magical moments in my whole career – that phone call was a big deal for me.”