The 44-year-old national team head coach today named a 28-man squad for next month’s training camp which will include warm-up games against Italy and Hungary.
But he and assistant coaches Adam keefe and Corey Neilson will then have to jettison three more names to leave them with a 25-strong squad to contest the biggest challenge of their collective careers in Slovakia between May 11-20.
After opening up against 2018 Olympic silver medallists Germany, GB will then face heavyweights Canada and USA, in between which they will take on Denmark.
Another massive test then presents itself in the form of Finland before Ending their Group A schedule in Kosice with encounters against hosts Slovakia and France.
It is the first time GB has competed at the top leve of international hockey since 1994, something made possible by last year’s memorable gold medal triumnp in Division 1 A in Hungary.
Five Sheffield Steelers players have been included in the initial squad, with netminder Jackson Whistle – expected to be back-up to Rotherham-born Cardiff Devils goalie – joined by defencemen Ben O’Connor and Davey Phillips, as well as forwards Jonathan Phillips and Robert Dowd, the latter being recalled after missing an earlier get together this year through injury.
Former Steelers forward Liam Kirk – currently playing in the OHL for Peterborough Petes after being picked by Arizona Coyotes in last year’s NHL Draft – has also been recalled.
“This has been the toughest group to select to date,” said Russell, also head coach of Elite League Glasgow Clan and who has overseen two successive promotions in the international game. “There is a high amount of competition in all areas.
“It was important to keep our core who have taken this country forward and then look at all the players knocking on the door and putting their personal case forward.
“Experience is vital and has high importance. But, we as coaches, must always look at guys who are performing well and who we believe can add to the level.
“In the selection process we had a lot of guys competing in the same positions, so in many ways that’s even tougher but we believe and trust in our selections in the 28.
“The 28 will, of course, become the 25 and the players will decide that for us during the pre-tournament preparations.
“Personally and as a coaching team we would like to thank every player who was involved in the long list and, as always, the door is never shut in the future for many of the bubble guys and the up-and-coming talent.
As part of their warm-up preparations – which will start just two days after the end of the EIHL Final Four Playoff Weekend – Russell’s team will play Italy at the Coventry Skydome on Friday, April, 19 before taking on Hungary in Milton Keynes two days later.
The following weekend will see the visit of KHL outfit Torpedo to the UK, with GB going head-to-head with the KHL Eastern Conference side in back-to-back games in Nottingham and Sheffield.
Netminders: Ben Bowns (Cardiff Devils), Thomas Murdy (Cardiff), Jackson Whistle (Sheffield Steelers); Defencemen: Josh Batch (Cardiff), Tim Billingsley (Nottingham Panthers), Dallas Ehrhardt (Manchester Storm), Mark Garside (Belfast Giants), Steve Lee (Nottingham), Evan Mosey (Cardif), Ben O’Connor (Sheffield), David Phillips (Sheffield), Mark Richardson (Cardiff); Forwards: Ollie Betteridge (Nottingham), Brendan Connolly (Glasgow Clan), Ben Davies (Guildford Flames), Robert Dowd (Sheffield), Robert Farmer (Nottingham), Luke Ferrara (Coventry Blaze), Mike Hammond (Manchester), Liam Kirk (Peterborough Petes), Robert Lachowicz (Nottingham), Ben Lake (Coventry), Ciaran Long (Manchester), Matthew Myers (Cardiff), Craig Peacock (Glasgow), Brett Perlini (Nottingham), Jonathan Phillips (Sheffield), Colin Shields (Belfast).