As the four-day final Olympic qualification event gets underway, Tony Hand’s team open up against hosts and pre-tournament favourites Latvia, a team ranked 10 places above them in the world standings.
After the team’s Thursday morning skate head coach hand revealed he would be going with returning goaltender Stevie Lyle, who had retired from the international scene, rather than Hull Stingrays’ Ben Bowns, who is yet to make a senior start.
Further tests await for Britain against France and Kazakhstan and, as firm underdogs, most people are predicting only an early exit for the GB team, who made it through to this stage after winning the pre-qualification event in Japan last November.
The last time the British men’s team competed in a Winter Olympics was back in 1948 when they finished fifth. That came only 12 years after they stunned the sport by beating the likes of Canada on the way to a gold medal in Germany.
And while there are not the same expectations this time around, 30-year-old Phillips is confident he and his team-mates can spring a surprise in Riga.
“We’re going to be playing some of the best teams in the world and we recognise that,” said Phillips.
“It’s a great chance to show what we can do – everyone’s excited about that prospect. We want to see how far we can get.
“There’s no pressure on us but we’re not going there to roll over. This is the kind of thing you need – to see how you measure up against better players and teams.”
Watch Jonathan Phillips preview GB’s trip to Latvia by pressing the PLAY button at the top of this page.
The late withdrawal through injury of first-choice netminder Stephen Murphy left head coach Hand with a selection dilemma ahead of today’s opener (5.30pm UK time). Having brought Lyle out of retirement to provide cover, Hand opted to go with his more experienced option, meaning Hull Stingrays’ 22-year-old stopper, Bowns, will have to wait a while longer to make his senior starting debut.
“We feel right now that we need experience in the net,” said Hand. “This would be Ben’s first senior start and it’s basically an ‘A Pool’ tournament and it’s more important to have experience back there.
“We have two exceptional goaltenders, but we’ve gone for experience rather than throwing ben into what would be the lion’s den a little bit.
“It was a tough call, but we’ll stick by the decision.”