Great Britain captain Jonathan Phillips is seeking a “fairytale-like” ending to his career by leading his team to the top division of ice hockey’s World Championship.

GB are on home ice in Nottingham for the World Championship Division 1 Group A event, which starts on Saturday.

Phillips, who is Great Britain’s most capped player, is retiring aged 40 after their final match on 5 May.

“Our main goal is to win gold and promotion,” the forward told BBC Sport.

Great Britain will play Italy, Lithuania, Korea, Poland and Romania in a round-robin format, with the top two sides being promoted to the 2024 World Championship in the Czech Republic.

They begin their campaign against Korea on Saturday (19:30 BST).

Phillips added: “It’s a very tight, strong group and it’s not often GB has been one of the top seeds, so we really have to focus on ourselves and keep pushing the pace.”

‘It’s going to be emotional’

At the age of eight, Phillips attended his first ice hockey match in his hometown of Cardiff and immediately “fell in love” with the sport.

He started his professional career at Cardiff Devils, before going on to play for Basingstoke Bison, Milton Keynes Lightning, Passau Black Hawks and Sheffield Steelers.

At Steelers he became their most decorated captain, winning four Elite League titles, three play-off trophies and one Challenge Cup in his 17 years at the club.

On 8 April, after 1,037 games and 177 goals, Phillips made his final appearance.

Speaking about retirement and how he feels approaching the last games of his 25-year career, he said: “I’m OK at the moment, but come 5 May, I think it will be tough knowing it’s the last game.

“I’ve tried to forget about it because of the season and tournaments, but obviously it’s going to be emotional for me.

“I’ve been lucky enough to do so much in my career and normally people don’t get to play until they’re 40. I have to remember that I’ve been privileged.”

The Welshman, who had been volunteering at a high school in Sheffield in this academic year, has now been appointed to their staff for next year working in the inclusion centre.

‘The improvement is absolutely huge’

Since making his GB debut in 2003, Phillips has played a major role in the side’s progression to the elite level and hopes they will continue to go from strength to strength.

“I’ve seen the team go through the ups and downs but we’re such a different look now,” he added.

“Not just in how we look, but the whole organisation of it. The improvement is absolutely huge.”

Great Britain reached the World Championship in 2018 for the first time in 24 years, staying in the top tier for three years before relegation last year.

A return to the elite level is the immediate priority, but Phillips said they must also target a first qualification for the Winter Olympics since 1948.

“We’re aiming for promotion first and foremost and, for me, that would be a fairytale-like ending,” he said.

“I think the Olympics has to be the programme’s long-term and end goal because once you’ve made those Olympics, the exposure becomes so much bigger and that helps everything to do with UK hockey.”

While Phillips takes to the ice for his finale, three new faces are set to make their World Championship debuts.

Defencemen Nathanael Halbert and Sam Ruopp and forward Johnny Curran have been selected by head coach Pete Russell.

“I think the young guys that we’ve got coming through have great careers ahead of them,” added Phillips.

“I think they can teach us just as much as we can teach them.”

Original Article:
By Katie Stafford of BBC Sport