Having returned home to the UK last night with a gold medal around his neck and an accompanying promotion to the elite tier of international hockey to compete against the likes of Canada, Russia and Sweden, it is fair to say Phillips’s expectations were somewhat exceeded.
Expected by many to suffer an immediate relegation back down to the third tier from which they had come after a memorable Division 1B triumph in Belfast last year, GB went way beyond the call of duty in silencing those doubters at the Laszlo Papp Sportarena.
Their stunning success did not come easily, though. In fact, with fewer than 10 minutes remaining in the final game of the tournament against hosts’ Hungary they were looking at the possibility of missing out on a medal completely as they trailed 2-0.
But seconds later, after Phillips’s Steelers’ team-mate Robert Dowd had spun around and forced a shot past Adam Vay to halve the deficit, Pete Russell’s team clearly picked up the faint whiff of a promotion in the offing and were determined to chase it down. That they left it late is something of an understatement, just 15 seconds remaining when Robert Farmer’s speculative shot towards the front of net turned into something more memorable as it cannoned off Vay’s left pad and over the line.
Desperate defence was still required in the remaining seconds but, once the buzzer came, the understandably wild celebrations of the GB team, staff and fans contrasted sharply with the dejection on the hosts’ bench and the majority of the 8,000 crowd.
As if to emphasise their being deserving of the gold medal, GB went on to pick up their fourth win of the week, edging the final game of the tournament 3-2 on a shoot-out – topping the group by two points and taking a grateful Italy up with them into the top tier.
Much, much tougher tests await in Slovakia in 12 months, but Phillips is convinced that GB’s place there is fully deserved.
“We just played brilliantly in every game and we fully deserved what we got,” said the 30-year-old. “Some other results did go our way, but over the course of the week you get what you deserve.
“What’s coming our way in 12 months’ time is a fantastic opportunity to test ourselves against the top nations and players in the world.
“We’ve just got to embrace it.”