Valuable time together for GB ice hockey welcomed ahead of elite challenge

JONATHAN PHILLIPS believes this week’s training camp and subsequent challenge game against KHL team Dinamo Riga will prove invaluable to Great Britain’s preparations for the “huge challenge” that awaits them at the World Championships.

COME TOGETHER: Sheffield Steelers' forward Jonathan Phillips welcomes the extra preparation time for the GB squad ahead of May's World Championships in Slovakia. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Pete Russell’s team got together for two days at Coventry’s Sky Dome Arena ahead of Wednesday night’s encounter against their Latvian visitors, which saw the hosts prevail 3-1.

Goals from Luke Ferrara, Ben Lake and Ben O’Connor were enough to seal victory in front of a capacity 3,000 crowd.

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But much tougher tests await GB in Slovakia in May when they will come up against top-ranked teams including Canada, Finland and the USA – with 2018 Olympic silver medallists Germany also in a Group A that comprises France, Denmark and the hosts.

GB's players celebrate one of their three goals against Dinamo Riga on Wednesday in Coventry. Picture: Dean Woolley.

This week’s camp was the first time the British players had gathered since last April’s memorable gold-medal triumph in Budapest that saw them return to the top tier for the first time since 1994.

And Phillips, who was joined at the camp by Sheffield Steelers’ team-mates O’Connor, Davey Phillips and Jackson Whistle, was pleased to see the team pick up where it has left off.

“It was great to get together,” said Phillips. “It’s the one thing that we’ve been calling out for for years – extra training camps and, where possible, games.

“It gives the coaches the chance to make it really competitive for places. Pete (Russell) is going to have a real hard job when it comes to picking the squad for Slovakia. The competition for places throughout the squad now is massive, which is exactly what you want and need it to be.

“We were quickly all on the same page again. It was nice, it was easy – it is always a real fun place to be.”

Once the Elite League playoff final weekend in Nottingham is completed on April 14, Russell and his players will come together once more for a two-week training camp which will bring four more games – two of which are against Italy and Hungary, teams they pipped to gold in 2018.

It will give Russell and his coaching team valuable extra time to work with his players on lines and systems ahead of what will be the most testing tournament of their careers.

“It gives the coach an opportunity to make sure he is putting the best team out there that he can come May,” added Phillips.

“Having those extra days to practice and bring in these systems will be vital – rather than just trying to cram it all into the few days we’ve normally had in the past before heading off to play in world championships.”