GB looks for new goal heroes

Originally posted on by Andy Potts
Not many people expected Great Britain to be back for a third successive appearance in the top division. It’s the country’s longest unbroken spell at this level since before World War II and, despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the Brits have done it on merit. In 2019, they beat France in a relegation decider in Kosice to finish seventh in their group then, in 2021, victory over Belarus in Riga brought another seventh place.

However, matching that achievement in Tampere is likely to be tough. Britain scored just 22 goals in those two tournaments and 13 of them came from Liam Kirk and Mike Hammond. Both of them are absent due to injury this time and the current British roster failed to score in back-to-back warm-up games against Denmark over the weekend. That gives a big clue about the difficulties GB can expect to face in Finland.

Ben Bowns is the undisputed #1 for his country and his efforts in previous World Championships have earned him rave reviews. In one of the viral clips from the tournament in Riga, even a ref was heard to urge someone to offer the 31-year-old a big contract.

This season, Bowns has been in Slovakia with Dukla Trencin, performing well at a higher level than he is used to facing in the Elite League. He can expect to play the bulk of GB’s minutes this time around. Understudy Jackson Whistle, fresh from helping Belfast Giants win the Elite League, is back for his third appearance at the Worlds, while 25-year-old Jordan Hedley is the third goalie. The Coventry Blaze man did not get on the ice in Riga and will hope for a taste of the action this time around.

It’s pretty much ‘as you were’ on the blue line. Josh Batch, a long-serving D-man with the Cardiff Devils is the only new face compared with Riga 12 months ago. Batch, 31, has international experience in the lower divisions but is poised for his top-level debut here.

Otherwise, expect to see Ben O’Connor continue as the main offensive threat from the British ‘D’. He’s likely to play a big role on the power play. Dallas Ehrhardt was a late addition to the roster and arrives off a mixed season with struggling Manchester Storm. His 32 (11+21) points are a positive, but his -32 rating was the worst in the Elite League last season. In addition, look out for youngsters Josh Tetlow and Sam Jones, both 24, to gain more experience. Both debuted for GB at last year’s tournament and will be hoping that an extra year’s development can help them adapt to the demands of the international game.

At the other end of the scale, David Phillips (34) and Mark Richardson (35) bring a wealth of experience. David Clements is another player looking to build on his experience from Riga in his second World Championship campaign.

The absence of the injured Liam Kirk and Mike Hammond leaves Britain looking for new scoring options in Tampere, while Brendan Connolly also misses the 2022 tournament. Scott Conway might be the answer. The 27-year-old is the son of Kevin Conway, a naturalized GB star of the 1990s, and made his international debut in Olympic qualification in 2020. He scored twice in three games there and piled up 78 (33+45) points in 53 games for the title-winning Belfast Giants in this year’s Elite League. Conway’s cousin, Brett Perlini, could also emerge as a key figure on the British offence this season. The 31-year-old is one of the few players on the team to play outside of the UK this term, scoring 35 points in 37 games for Ringerike in Norway.

Coventry’s Luke Ferrara was a late addition to the roster after it emerged that Hammond would not recover in time to play. For many observers, that corrected an error in omitting him in the first instance: Ferrara was third among British players for Elite League points last season, behind Conway and Sheffield’s vastly experienced Robert Dowd. A power play specialist with Coventry, Ferrara has yet to catch fire at World Championship level, with limited ice time and just three shots on goal in his nine appearances to date.

Much of the roster will be familiar from previous campaigns. Evan Mosey returns after missing out last year, while the likes of captain Jonathan Phillips, Lewis Hook, Robert Lachowitz, Ben Lake, Matthew Myers, and Ben Davies – scorer of that overtime winner against France in Kosice to keep GB in the top division – are all back once again.

There are two new faces on the roster. Cade Nielson is the 20-year-old son of assistant coach Corey and earned his call-up after a productive NAHL season with Aberdeen Wings. Very much one for the future, he’ll be continuing his progress in the NCAA next term. Josh Waller, 22, spent time in Czechia as a junior. A summer move to Cardiff led to a big boost in his Elite League productivity and his pace could trouble a few defencemen at this level. Cardiff team-mate Sam Duggan, 23, featured in three games in Riga and will look to add to that experience.

Pete Russell will be with the team in Tampere after family reasons kept him away from Riga last year. The popular Scot continues to enjoy a burgeoning reputation in Germany where his exploits in DEL2 with Ravensburg Towerstars earned him a move to the top flight with Augsburger Panther next season. In Russell’s absence last season, Corey Nielson and Adam Keefe took joint charge of Team GB and both are back as assistants this term. Keefe is fresh from leading Belfast to the Elite League title, while Nielson worked in Norway, Slovakia and, most recently, Germany during 2021/22.

Projected results
As usual, GB’s first target is to avoid relegation. Thus, the game against Austria on 23 May looks like it will be vital to both country’s hopes of remaining in the top division. It’s fair to assume the Brits will be heavily overmatched against Czechia, Sweden, USA and Finland, but memories of some battling displays against Slovakia and Denmark last year give grounds to hope for competitive performances against Norway and Latvia. As in previous campaigns, it won’t always be pretty, but Russell will hope that a strong team ethos and a willingness to battle hard can extend his players’ stay in the top division.