After Great Britain came agonisingly close to gaining promotion to Division 1A, Jono Bullard says that we still have much to be proud of.
I was as disappointed as most people when Ukraine beat GB to the gold medal at the World Championships last Saturday, however it was noticeable that as soon as the final hooter went some were looking to point the blame at GB’s ‘failure’.
I must that I was getting quite annoyed with some of the comments on social media, some from people I have a lot of respect for usually. I don’t understand why some feel the need to apportion blame, especially as the whole squad, in my opinion, played excellently during the week.
Unfortunately sport is like that, you will get disappointment and it’s just the way it is.
Having had time to reflect on the tournament as a whole I think there is still an awful lot for us to be proud of in our national team which I have detailed below.
This is the best preparation I can remember for a World Championship campaign. Even with the benefit of the Olympic Qualifiers in January which allowed the squad to get together during the season, there was a full two weeks after the EIHL & EPL play-offs for the squad to prepare.
Two warm-up games against Poland sandwiched training camps in Coventry before the final squad flew out to Zagreb.
In an interview with TCW in 2008 David Simms, who was involved with the GB set-up at that time said “…it’s not about money, it’s about time and preparation…” I strongly believe that the time and preparation for Zagreb were a major reason for the performance.
Also the off-ice support network is superb for which General Manager Andy Buxton should deservedly get a lot of credit.
To start with a few statistics:
• GB scored 23 goals, their most in a World Championship since 2001
• GB conceded 7 goals, their least in a World Championship I have records for (back to 2001)
• GB’s scoring conversion rate was 11% (23 goals from 196 shots)
• Colin Shields had the most shots on target with 19. David Clarke & Robert Farmer tied second with 18 each.
• Josh Batch, Jonathan Weaver, Mark Richardson & Jonathan Phillips were tied plus/minus leaders with +6
• Ben Bowns finished the tournament with a 91.86% save percentage and a goals against average of 1.39
This was GB’s best World Championships statistically for many years but also watching the games I felt there was a confidence going through the team, especially in the 8-0 demolition of Lithuania, a team we had failed to beat since 2011.
David Clarke said in an interview that it was down to having a healthy squad and that was obviously a major factor. Also the preparation allowed Peter Russell to have settled lines, the pick for me being the Cowley, Tait & Venus unit.
They all bought in to Russell’s systems and methods and for me not one player had a poor tournament.
Going back to what was said directly after the Ukraine defeat, most criticism seemed to be directed at Ben Bowns & David Clarke that I felt was grossly unfair. As stated above, Bowns finished the tournament with a save percentage of 91.86% while Clarke had 18 shots on goal. Granted, he didn’t score but was clearly getting in to the right positions for a shot on target.
There were success stories too. Russ Cowley was superb throughout the tournament finishing with 3+3, Jonathan Boxill weighed in with a couple of goals, Robert Lachowicz had his best GB tournament I felt, Jonathan Weaver showed he still has the ability to perform on the big stage and captain Jonathan Phillips led by example.
Evan Mosey will no doubt be disappointed with his return of 1 assist, however it was clear that the effort was there and his desire to play for Great Britain cannot be questioned.
The media output of Team GB is nothing short of outstanding and for that media manger Chris Ellis deserves an immense amount of credit. The quality and quantity of content before & during the tournament was superb, so much so that some EIHL teams should look at GB media and use it as an example of how it should be done. Visionmix (who produce Sheffield’s visual media) should also share the credit thanks to the quality of content that they produce.
Not only is the in-house media top notch but external interest is growing as well. Premier Sports featured all the games with commentators Aaron Murphy and Paul Adey based in Zagreb. Thanks to Seth Bennett the BBC also had live audio coverage of the games on the BBC website with some being featured on BBC 5 Live Sports Extra. If you think back a few short years we had to rely on live updates from the IIHF website each World Championships. Now we have a choice of how we can access coverage.
It’s clear that there is still much to be done and promotion to Division 1A has to remain the top priority. There’s also the worry over the ages of some of the stalwarts. By the time the next World Championships are upon us Ashley Tait will be 41, Jonathan Weaver will be 40, Colin Shields will be 37 and David Clarke will be 35. The management need to find the up & coming youngsters who will replace them, but there are fears that the standard of British player just isn’t there at the moment. There is also a train of thought that the gap can be plugged by dual nationals, which is a move I would be in favour of. However they would have to be better than the players we already have, available and most importantly WANT to play for Great Britain.
It has been revealed that Belfast have applied to host the next World Championships. With a home crowd behind them the team really could take that extra step and gain promotion. We’ll know for sure in 12 months time.