VIDEO - Ben Bowns welcomes toughest test ahead of Great Britain's return to life among world elite
TODAY is where reality starts to bite as far as Rotherham-born netminder Ben Bowns is concerned as Great Britain continue their build-up to the World Championships with a final warm-up match against hosts Slovakia.
In what has already justifiably been the longest training camp for the men’s senior team in recent memory - two weeks of practise interspersed with four warm-up games on home ice - an outing against the world No 10 team will give the clearest indication yet of the size of the task facing Pete Russell’s team.
This time next week, GB - ranked 22nd in the world - will open up their first tournament in the top flight for 25 years with an encounter against 2018 Olympic silver medallists Germany, whose roster will include a handful of NHL stars, including Edmonton Oilers’ Leon Draisatl.
GB, back among the elite after two successive gold medal promotions, will also face Slovakia in a Group A which brings them up against world-leading nations such as Canada, Finland and the USA.
“The game against Slovakia is one I’m really looking forward to as it will give us our biggest test yet,” said the 28-year-old Cardiff Devils goalie.
“What we have to make sure of is that we stay in this division. Everyone talks about playing Canada, playing USA but right now that is not our worry. Slovakia are so we’ll get past that, we’ll get that experience we need and then start worrying about Germany in that first game.”
Having earned a promotion from Division 1B with a gold-medal winning performance on home ice in Belfast in 2017, Russell’s team defied expectations on a far grander scale in Bucharest 12 months on.
A Robert Farmer goal with 15.8 seconds remaining in the tournament’s final game against hosts Hungary was the turning point, not only for GB but also the hosts, Italy and Kazakhstan.
Prior to Farmer’s moment of magic, Hungary and Kazakhstan - who had beaten GB 6-1 earlier in the week - looked set for promotion, only to see Italy accompany Russell’s team back in to elite company once again.
And Bowns, who capped off the domestic season with a play-off final win over Belfast Giants, believes the element of surprise could once again work in his team’s favour.
“Teams are going to get a shock when they play us,” said Bowns. “I probably don’t want to say that too much because then they’ll kind of be prepared for us, but I think we’re going to surprise teams, we’re going to surprise the people watching and we’ll even surprise our own fans hopefully.
“The aim has to be to stay in that group - we don’t want to come back down. We have to remind ourselves that we are there because we deserve to be - we won back-to-back gold medals so we deserve to be there.”