Competition fierce among GB players to prove they can skate with the world’s elite
JONATHAN PHILLIPS believes familiarity could breed contentment for Great Britain as they prepare to prove the doubters wrong for a third year in succession.
Pete Russell’s squad are currently midway through their preparations for next month’s World Championships in Slovakia after two successive gold medal promotions catapulted them into the elite tier for the first time in 25 years.
It means they will be pitting their skills against the likes of world-leading nations such as Canada, Finland and USA in a hectic schedule that sees them play seven games in 10 days.
The odds are severely stacked against GB avoiding an immediate return to the second tier and while Russell’s players are under no illusions as to the size of the task in front of them they are determined to prove they can compete with the world’s best once their tournament gets underway against Germany on May 11 in Kosice.
Phillips, who made his GB tournament debut back in 2003, believes that under head coach Russell and assistants Adam Keefe and Corey Neilson, the tournament underdogs will go in as best prepared as they can hope to be come that first puck drop against the Olympic silver medallists.
“They are very well-prepared coaches, that goes without saying,” said Sheffield Steelers’ captain Phillips. “But, more than anything, the thing that is most impressive is just the huge passion they all have for what we are trying to do.
“And that is the key – if you haven’t got passion for what you are doing or who you are playing for and with, you’re kind of missing something and it doesn’t really work.
“If you look at the progression that Pete has made through the programme, from the 18s, 20s and assistant coach of the senior team and then moving up to head coach, he knows the programme inside out and he knows all of us inside out.
“He really knows how to motivate the boys – all three of them do – and how to get the best from each player. Pete has proved that over the last few years.”
After GB’s preparations continued with a 3-1 win over Hungary in Milton Keynes last night – the same opponents that they beat in overtime in Budapest last year to clinch promotion – Russell is set to cut his 30-strong squad by five ahead of next weekend’s two final home warm-up games against KHL outfit Torpedo in Nottingham and Sheffield.
Thirty-six-year-old Phillips believes the competition for places to make the final cut ahead of a world championship campaign has never been as fierce.
“A few years ago the team and squad was more or less set from an early point,” added Phillips. “But, now, I don’t think there has ever been as much competition for places. There are some great players here and we’re all working as hard as we can to make sure that we make that final squad.
“It’s healthy for the GB programme and has only made us a better team as it pushes you even harder.”