Leeds Knights youngster Archie Hazeldine targets golden shot with GB Under-18s at World Championships
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A first full season in senior hockey – he played a handful of games for hometown club Nottingham Lions during the Covid-hit 2020-21 campaign – has seen the 17-year-old earn endless plaudits for the way he has adapted to playing at a higher level.
On top of that, he has also got to make a debut appearance at Elite League level, icing alongside older brother Joe for Manchester Storm.
In a few days’ time, Hazeldine will take another important step in his career when – two years after first being selected to represent his country – he steps out as part of the Great Britain Under-18s team at the World Championship Division Two tournament in Estonia.
Hazeldine flew out to Finland with the GB squad on Tuesday as part of their final preparations for the tournament which gets underway on Sunday when they take on the hosts at Tallinn’s Tondiraba IceHall.
Having suffered relegation to Division 2A three years ago, the clear aim is for GB to secure an instant return, something head coach Sean Easton believes is within their grasp and an ambition which has clearly rubbed off on his players.
“They have made it clear what we are going out to Estonia for, we’re going there to win it and that’s the approach that you need to take,” said Hazeldine. “Yes, you can go for the experience and enjoy it with it being a World Championships and all that – but you want to be coming back having been successful.
“There’s only one promotion spot available and that comes with gold. That’s what we’re aiming for.”
For Hazeldine and his team-mates the tournament has been a long time coming, the majority of the roster first earning a GB call-up at Under-16 level two years ago.
But the global pandemic saw their hopes of taking on such powerhouse nations as Sweden, Finland and Russia scuppered as the one-off tournament – scheduled to take place in Latvia – was one of many postponed.
A little under two years later, Hazeldine and his team-mates are determined to make up for lost time.
“It’s exciting, I can’t wait to get out there and start playing, it’s been a long time coming,” added Hazeldine. “A lot of this roster were together back then but we obviously weren’t able to go anywhere. We were close to going away and then everything got shut down – it just makes you want to be involved in something like this even more.
“The training camps have been really good, very constructive and helped put us in a good position and made sure we’re ready for what’s coming.”
A number of Hazeldine’s Knights’ team-mates, as well as his brother, were part of the GB 18s team that came down in 2019, the youngster joking with Kieran Brown, Jordan Griffin and Ethan Hehir that he is going out to Estonia to set the record straight.
Regardless of the outcome, Hazeldine - who last night scored twice in a 9-3 win for the Under-18s in a warm-up game against Finnish side Grankulla IFK – is looking forward to that first moment when he steps out on the ice wearing his treasured GB jersey.
“Representing your country is always going to be a special moment in your career, at whatever stage it comes,” said Hazeldine, who has been given plenty of advice by his Knights team-mates, as well as his older brother.
“Joe has just told me to make sure I go out there and enjoy it – he was keen for me to let me experience it myself.”
And while there are great expectations on the team coming home a gold medal, there are also high hopes for Hazeldine, both in Tallinn and longer term.
“Archie was always a top-end player at junior level,” said GB 18s head coach Easton.
“Obviously having Joe as his older brother – who has been through the process and got to Elite League level – it doesn’t surprise me.
“He’s seen the process through his brother and I think, like any young kid, they just thrive when they are given the right opportunities.”
Veteran Knights’ team-mate Sam Zajac believes there are few limits to what his younger fellow D-man can achieve.
“Right from day one, the first time I saw him, it was kind of a shock that he hadn’t played at senior level before,” said Zajac.
“He came in and he wasn’t a million miles off from the very start, he didn’t take long to adapt – with the right coaching, the sky is the limit for him. I’m sure he’s going to do GB and us proud out in Estonia.”