Success Out of Failure for Team GB
Success and failure can in its simplest form be easy to establish. If a line scores a goal it is a success, if a team wins the game it is a success or if a team wins a championship, trophy or medal it is a success. However sometimes a team can be said to be successful if none of these things happen. When Team GB arrived in Riga for the Olympic Qualifying Tournament they were expected to do nothing and come away with nothing measurable. Despite this it can still be a successful campaign although we will not know how successful until in the short term the World Championships and in the longer term perhaps not until the next Olympic cycle.
When any team loses all 3 games in a tournament there a lot of negatives. Top of the list for Great Britain will be the penalties. 22 times GB lost a man that is double the amount of penalties taken by Kazakhstan. There are many reasons for this. The other three teams in the group were in general faster and better stick handlers and one way to slow an opponent down is to give them a hook and a grab. In the EIHL a little one of this is general forgiven but at international level it is not. The fact that GB have now had 2 tournaments already this season with these stricter rules should put the team in good stead for the World Championships in April.
It is that experience is what will make the difference. Not only the experience of playing international hockey but playing hockey together as a team. For the first time in many many years the national side will have had nearly 3 weeks worth of training and games before the world championships, which puts the team in the best position it has been in for all those years.
The Olympic adventure has also provided allowed the side to face its opponents prior to the world championships. Japan, South Korea and Kazakhstan will be along side Team GB in Hungry giving the coaches a change to see their players, systems and lines and giving the players an idea of what they are up against. The 6-0 defeat at the hands of Kazakhstan in Riga may fill the GB players with dread at facing them again but that is something that Tony Hand, Doug Christiansen and the team will have to overcome.
Then there is Ben Bowns. Goaltending is never easy and there is no easy way of making the step up to the next level. There is no sitting on the bench waiting for a powerplay or the third line to appear to make your debut. It is a position that when taking that step you just grit your teeth and bare it. Bowns is the future of GB goaltending. After Lyle and Murphy have retired it will be the Hull Stingrays goalieâ€™s turn to head between the pipes. His debut against Kazakhstan will become a pivotal point in his international career. Whilst no doubt disappointed to concede 6 goals he will be the better for facing a side superior to any in the Elite League or around Great Britainâ€™s usual international opponents.
From an on ice perspective Great Britainâ€™s Olympic dream should be seen in a broader sense as to whether it can be deemed a success or not. If GB improve on last seasons 5th place at the worlds to 3rd or 4th it will be a sign of the success.
Off ice is another matter. The tournament in Riga has brought the GB team to attention of the media again but media train is fickle and by suffering 3 defeats that media train may lose interest.Â However Ice Hockey UK general secretary Andy French has revealed that they intend to bid to host the World Championships in either 2014 or 2015 which should ignite the interest with the media again and with the fans domestically. In mean time if the IHUK can keep either the BBC and/ or ESPN on board for the world championships it will make an off ice success of the tournament.
In addition this tournament run does seem to have kicked IHUK up the backside to focus more on the national side. In an interview with BBC 5 Live Sports Extra Andy French hinted at more international breaks and training camps for the side and national coach Tony Hand seems to be embellishing his role by talking up the youngsters and a national system.
On the whole it has been great learning curve for all involved. The players are more aware of the standard needed to return GB to the world group, the coaches know what it will take and the back office organisation IHUK are learning their lessons. Hopefully now the EIHL and EPL owners will get on board and see that support the national team with international breaks will reap benefits for them.