GB Left with Questions After Relegation

GB headed to Hungary with high hopes but all that ended in tears and relegation on Saturday lunchtime following a 4-1 defeat to Korea. A loss that leaves Ice Hockey UK, the EIHL and the game in Britain with many answers to find.

After opening day defeat to Hungary last Sunday there were still lots of positives and knowing there were the games against Japan and Korea to come there was no need to panic. Even after the Kazakh and Italy defeats there were lots of positives especially the 1-1 scoreline after the first period against Italy.

Come Friday however there were few positives to have but the GB team did create chances and there was always Saturday’s game against Korea and all they had to do was win. An early Robert Dowd strike was just what they needed and as the chances piled up for the Brits it was all looking good until 4 goals for Korea seemingly on 4 chances in a 20 minute period turned the game out of the reach of the Brits. It was a recurring theme. In each game the opportunities were there but they were not taken.

That leaves GB with relegation to Division 1b and games against the likes of Poland and the Netherlands. But there needs to be realisation within the powers that be in the game in the UK that change is needed.

As the Ukraine found out last season there are emerging forces in the sport of ice hockey on the national stage. Japan have are getting back on top after the Fukushima earthquake devastated the heartland of the game and Korea is advancing at a rapid rate ahead of the 2018 Olympics. Whilst teams like Italy, Kazakhstan and Hungary have realised this and made changes the UK hasn’t.

The Kazakh’s with the help of the KHL have invested in their national team and ice hockey is growing rapidly within the naturalised Kazakh community rather than the traditional hockey playing community made up of the Russian Kazakh’s. Italy meanwhile on the their relegation from the World group slashed the number of imports in its domestic league realising that a national team in the that group helps to attract media and financial attention. Japan on the other hand have invested over $1 million to move the team forward and Korea have had the biggest development. The Korean’s have invested millions in facilities and nurturing talent in Korea and their link up with the Finnish league to further hone their prospects has given them an enormous boost.

Great Britain meanwhile has had little in comparison. A bonus from IOC to cover travel and equipment costs for the teams at tournaments is not a funding commitment that will progress the team further. Funding may be hard to come by in the UK but the EIHL’s decision to increase the number of import players allowed also goes against the grain of GB’s competitors at the World Championships.

It is surely time the owners and the EIHL realised that it is now 10 years since we saw a great influx into the league of British talent caused by the change to the EIHL and the new import rules. The likes of longstanding players such as David Longstaff are now retiring and Jonathan Weaver will perhaps not be far behind. Players such as Mark Thomas, David Clarke, Jason Hewitt, Mark Richardson and Greg Owen who were given their opportunity by the rule change are now 10 years older. Is it not time for another generation to get their break too?

It may be argued with the likes of Rob Lachowicz, Robert Dowd, Ben Davies making there way into the national team that the system is allowing for young players to come through. However when you combine the players missing through injury and club commitments such as Mark Garside, Rod Sarich and Ben O’Connor with the ages of the established guard then there is a need to bolster the talent pool. This is something only the leagues themselves can resolve.

That is perhaps the biggest point the Leagues have the biggest part to play.  The leagues also need to work with Ice Hockey UK to have a couple of international breaks in the schedule to allow meet ups and international challenges so the national team can play together.

The short of it is if there are not changes quickly Great Britain will be languishing in Division 1B for sometime to come as there are teams such as the Netherlands, Poland and Estonia in that group that are progressing as national teams.

Neil Tucker

Neil has written on ice hockey for many websites concentrating on British ice hockey mostly. Neil also covers ice hockey in other countries and organises his Blueliner Hockey Tour. A graduate of the Manchester Metropolitan University Neil turned his hand to hockey writing in 2009. As well as contributing on Blueliner Hockey Neil has contributed to Get Real Hockey and Slapshot Magasine.

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