After spending some time in Kosice watching Great Britain take on the world’s best, David Spence gives his assessment of our own Miracle on Ice
“We’re sh*t and we know we are” rang out around the Steel Arena, Kosice on Monday afternoon and whilst so aptly self-deprecating nothing could have been further from the truth. In a 3-0 hole midway through the ‘winner takes all final’ game against France Team GB embarked on a comeback of epic proportions culminating with Ben Davies finding himself all alone in front of goal following dogged determination from Jonathan Phillips to lift the puck high into the French net to turn the British fans at home and in the arena into the Barmiest Army you ever did see!
At this point I will hold my hands up and admit I have never been so happy to have been wrong as I am as I write this. Having attended the top pool of the worlds over 2 weekends in 2018 when the tournament was hosted in Denmark based on what I saw I had little to no expectation of Team GB surviving at the Elite level, during the 6 games I was able to attend in Kosice, 3 of which were GB games, whilst there were many positives to take from the games I still envisaged us falling short against France. The French team are a very fast, fluid skating team that I believed would be too much for GB to handle, even after France had played the night before whilst GB rested. True British grit and determination however were the victors of the day.
I thought the tournament for GB had peaked with the game against USA especially going in all square at the end of the first. Following a hugely disappointing result against Denmark where nothing went right for the team, the players gave their all to push USA to the very end which included THAT Ben Bowns save from one of the NHLs hottest prospects Jack Hughes who is expected to go number 1 in this year’s draft. (Although I expect Finland’s’ Kaapa Kakko would have something to say about that) If you haven’t seen it, I assume you may have been in a cave, but never fear YouTube is your friend. The way the cheers rang out at the end of the game you’d think we’d have won and despite being on the wrong end of the score line the game was redemption for the efforts against the Danes. The fans were appreciative of the players and this was reciprocated in waves by the each one of the team after the post-game formalities.
The Players were not the only up against it during the tournament, the fans were too. A ticketing fiasco for the GBSC and through the general website sales, accommodation coming at a 400% premium and not many easy routes to the town of Kosice did not stop fans being there for all or even just a few games. The Steel Arena whilst a nice arena with a unique winged design was probably too small and I give a round of applause to all those that conquered the stairs of the upper tier! Even Sir Edmund Hillary would’ve struggled! Those fans that couldn’t be there were more than suitably served by FreeSports’ coverage and a fantastic level of output from the GB media team. There was even BBC coverage of all the games even though some fans were unhappy at having to select the ice hockey option on the menu screen. Kosice is a lovely little town with a bit of something for everyone ranging from a beautiful old town, rolling scenery and €1 shot bars. The fan park was expansive and was a sight to behold when Slovakia were playing. All in all, I feel as the 2nd host city it did a more than adequate job of hosting the tournament, but I would hope if the tournament is held there again something needs to done to make ticket purchasing fairer and to prevent such a rip off on accommodation.
I was impressed with the way GB prepared for this tournament with a good number of challenge games against KHL and other international teams that were a great test for us. We had a long training camp that gave the team the best possible chance of succeeding at the Worlds. Following our success in staying up I would like to see the relevant governing bodies work together to help the national team progress even further, although based on history I won’t be holding my breath on that one.
Promotion from Division 1B in Belfast 2017 was brilliant, Winning Division 1A Gold in Budapest 2018 was incredible, staying up in the elite group is frankly still unbelievable. So here is to whatever Switzerland 2020 may bring and let’s not forget the small matter of Olympic Qualifying, now that would be really something!