The following article is taken from IIHF.Com on 11th April 2015, and was written by Joeri Loonen.
Between Hope & Despair
Not many countries outside the top division bring such a fan support as Great Britain does.
Regardless of where a tournament involving the British is being played, you can rely on the Barmy Army to be around. United in the Great Britain Supports Clubs (GBSC) the fans bring a wealth of atmosphere in arenas across the world when their team is playing. Unfortunately for them the performance of the team on the ice has been less predictable during the last decade.
In 2011 the team was promoted to the Division I Group A and managed to stay up the following year. However, in 2013 the decline started with relegation back to Group B. With high hopes of an immediate return back to second tier, last year’s tournament in Vilnius became a disaster for the British with a disappointing fourth place.
The main question for the fans will be whether Britannia rule the waves again and be back as a gold medal candidate or will the team have to settle for a mid-table position once again.
They key to that answer is in the hands of new head coach Pete Russell. The 40-year-old replaced Doug Christiansen, who resigned in summer. Russell is Great Britain’s most successful junior coach and has won four golds, one silver and two bronze medals in 11 tournaments in charge of GB U20s and GB U18s.
Russell is full of confidence ahead of the tournament which will mean his official start of his tenure what he has referred to as “a dream come true”.
“Since Christmas, we have watched a lot of hockey and evaluated all our available options but, more importantly, searched for the right players who we believe fit into our playing philosophy and identity, “the head coach commented. “We have players returning with good international experience and we have some new blood coming into the fold as well, which is exciting.”
The squad that has been named contains of household names like forwards Colin Shields and Jonathan Philips, goaltender Stevie Lyle and defenseman Jonathan Weaver. On the other end the team also has some new faces that will make their senior debut for Great Britain.
Two of those do ply their trade across the pond, in North America. Towering forward Jack Prince grew up playing for Nottingham but left the country at an early age to try to build up a career abroad. After having worked his way up through various junior hockey league levels (Bantam T1EHL, NAHL) he just concluded his third season in the NCAA with the University of Alabama-Huntsville. His only appearance for Great Britain dates back to the 2010. During the IIHF World U20 Championships Division 1 he immediately made a name for himself claiming the top goal scorer award of the tournament.
The most likely candidate to get the majority of the interview requests in Eindhoven was Liam Stewart. The 20-year old assistant captain of the Spokane Chiefs playing in the WHL is the son of singer Rod Stewart and actress Rachel Hunter. However, he had to cancel his participation recently due to an injury.
Other players who are destined to make their debuts are Josh Batch, Matt Haywood and Jonathan Boxill while Chris Blight is now eligible to play for Great Britain after having completed three consecutive seasons in the EIHL.
The balanced squad has all the tools to be successful, but Great Britain will face new upcoming hockey powers in Eindhoven with Korea and Croatia looking to be the main medal candidates. The tournament opener for the Brits is against Croatia. Not only will this be a start in which one of the main rivals can be handed a loss, but it also provides an opportunity to make amends for the painful 4-0 loss suffered last year in Vilnius.
Although obviously delighted with seeing his team off to a great start, Russell looks further than this championship alone.
“For me, this is vital to us while pushing forward to reach our goals for not only this championship but for our future,” the coach said. “We have selected players with the qualities we wanted and now it’s all about bringing them together as a team. I will not make any big predictions but what I will promise is these 23 individuals will work tirelessly to do our country proud every time we step on to the ice.”
That’s one thing the Barmy Army can rely on.