Great Britain 1 Sweden 4 – GB stay in the game as wounded giants remain alive at IIHF World Championships

IT WAS always going to be a tall order for Great Britain to follow up their first regulation win in the top tier of the World Championships for almost 60 years with even more heroics less than 48 hours later.

By Phil Harrison
Friday, 28th May 2021, 9:49 pm
Updated Friday, 28th May 2021, 9:56 pm
ON TARGET: Liam Kirk, far right, scopreer of Great Britain's goal, battles for possession in front of the Sweden net. Picture: Dean Woolley.
ON TARGET: Liam Kirk, far right, scopreer of Great Britain's goal, battles for possession in front of the Sweden net. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Especially when the opposition was Sweden, the No 4-ranked team in the world and winner of the event 11 times.

But, GB were coming up against a Swedish team under fire, having won only one of their first four games and needing to win in Riga to retain any hope of reaching the knockout stages. Failure to do so would represent a disaster back home.

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Clearly, all the pressure was on Sweden and, in the opening 10 minutes or so, the team ranked 15 places below them in the world rankings skated with them and – as they have done against high-ranked opposition all week – looked relatively comfortable.

That comfort level got even greater when GB - captained by Matthew Myers on his 100th appearance - went ahead. It came through Liam Kirk with 7.20 on the board and was somewhat fortuitous when his deflected effort being ruled to have crossed the line before a fouled Brendan Connolly clattered into netminder Viktor Fasth through no fault of his own.

After what seemed like an eternity for the officials to reach their decision upon review – the goal had been ruled out on the ice – it was well worth the wait as far as the British bench was concerned, even though they themselves seemed a little surprised.

The mood on the other bench was, not surprisingly, a total contrast and only served to further frustrate a Swedish team packed with NHL players that had so far struggled to unlock GB’s resolute defence, Thereafter though, it largely became the Ben Bowns show, the British netminder performing heroics at time, eventually turning away 52 of the 56 shots that rained down on his goal over the course of the 60 minutes.

CLOSE CALL: Robert Dowd goes close to scoring against Sweden in Riga. Picture: Dean Woolley.

A slashing call on Connolly let Sweden back in when Marcus Sorenson scored on the resulting power play at 15.18, but it was the second period where GB really came up against it.

Bowns faced 22 shots, with two getting past him in a five-minute period around the halfway mark to effectively kill the tie, Jonathan Pudas’s marker at 27.00 being enhanced by Mario Kempe’s pinpoint shot at 32.08.

GB rallied in the third and fashioned more chances with Ben O’Connor, Kirk and Mike Hammond all going close.

But Bowns remained the busiest of the two goalies, beaten for a fourth time when Kempe netted his second, putting away his own rebound on the goal-line at 52.34.

MILESTONE: Matthew Myers celebrated his 100th GB cap and was handed the captaincy for the game against Sweden. Picture: Dean Woolley.

Co-coach Corey Neilson admitted GB were put under relentless pressure by Sweden but was impressed with how they managed to stay in the game.

“I am incredibly proud of the players for their output today,” said Neilson. “Sweden are a great hockey nation and one of the top teams in the world. Over the past few years we have got better in so many areas. We are learning to work ourselves out of problems with the puck, which I was very impressed with.

“We found some really positives solutions to get away from their relentless pressure today. Give the players all the credit in the world. For them to be able to process as fast as they did in their minds to do some of the stuff we did - and to create as much as they did - we are happy.”

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SLIDING WARS: GB defenceman battles with Sweden's Marcus Sorenson (No 19). Picture: Dean Woolley.