By Kris Smith
Many of Great Britain’s elite ice hockey players are excited and hopeful that the recently announced friendly fixture with Canada, can give UK ice hockey the exposure it deserves.
It was revealed on Friday that Great Britain will face Team Canada in an international challenge game in preparation for the 2020 International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships in Switzerland.
Tickets have already sold out for the exhibition match scheduled for Tuesday, May 5. 2020 at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham.
Last summer, GB gave a great showing of themselves against the world number one ranked side and other nations in the top group of the IIHF World Championships and secured their place at the top level of international ice hockey for another year.
Great Britain captain, Jonathan Phillips was left feeling amazed by the news and hopes that the UK can utilise this opportunity.
He said: “I think three, four or five years ago, you would never think or of expected this, I don’t even think it would have been a possibility.
“So, for them (Canada) to come over and give us a game and help us in our preparation, obviously something has got to be going right.
“I think they are respecting what we are trying to achieve and trying to do, which obviously is the main goal of staying up in that group.
“At the World Championships last year in Slovakia, we were all talking about the amount of respect that they (other nations) all gave us and how they were supportive of us.
“So, for them to come over and help showcase Team GB is huge and if you look at how far the GB program has come, especially under Pete Russell – it’s absolutely massive.
“I hope it does wonders, we have been crying out for years and years for the profile of UK hockey to get bigger and rise.
“You really hope it does raise the profile and make people take notice.”
Another member of last summer’s World Championship roster, Luke Ferrara also believes that the national team programme has progressed greatly and hopes that Team GB can reap the rewards of such an extraordinary match.
He said: “I think it’s huge because it is probably the biggest platform we have had to showcase the game in a very long time.
“I would assume going into that tournament that they (Canada) probably had no idea that we had a competitive team and I don’t blame them but the fact that they are now considering coming here to play, it just shows huge leaps forward for us.
“I mean the calibre of players they are going to be bringing over is incredible, so it should be a real chance to create some money and buzz for the sport.
“I’m hoping they are going to bring all their TV companies and it is a chance for people all over the world to see us.
“I am hoping we take full advantage of it too and obviously have a good game and give a good showing of ourselves.”
Dundee Stars forward, Jordan Cownie, was voted as the best Under 23 British player in the British top-flight last season but despite being involved in last year’s warm-up matches against Dinamo Riga from the Russian KHL league, he was not included in the World Championship squad.
However, the Scot is hoping to make the cut this year and is targeting a spot in the warm-up match with Canada but he also knows every other young Brit is dreaming of the same thing.
Jordan added: “It is obviously a huge incentive to want to make that team, I mean who would have thought that teams like Canada would have been coming across to play us in an exhibition game.
“Every British guy wants to be in that game and everyone is working their backside off every weekend to prove they can make that team.
“It was clear to see last year during the camp that everyone wanted to be there and obviously with playing in that top group in the World Championships, guys were hungry to be there.
“I was obviously a little disappointed last year to miss out but hopefully I’m in with a chance this year.”
Cownie also expects the fixture to benefit the profile of UK ice hockey in the international community.
He continued: “I think it’s going to be widely broadcast and for a team of that stature to be coming across and playing GB is going to be huge for hockey.
“I can’t even remember the last time a Canadian team played in the UK, but I think it is massive and it can only be good for the sport and the game going forward.”
Included in the announcement of the friendly fixture was comments from Richard Grieveson, Ice Hockey UK chairman and he said: “Canada is a world leader in ice hockey, and I am sure supporters across the UK will be excited to see GB face such a top-class team.
“Being able to attract such a big name is testament to how far the nation has come in the past few years.”
GB’s head coach, Pete Russell then added: “Canada will be a fantastic test as part of our World Championship preparations.”
Before Scott Smith, president and chief operating officer for Hockey Canada, commented: “We are excited to bring some of the best hockey players in the world to the United Kingdom and we expect the players will really enjoy their time in these historical cities.
“We believe in growing hockey not only in Canada but in other parts of the world and we are appreciative of Ice Hockey UK’s invitation and hospitality.”
Most of the Canadian national team play in the National Hockey League which is the highest level in the sport while most of Team GB’s players are icing for clubs in the Elite Ice Hockey League, Britain’s top level and the difference is astronomical.
Despite the massive gap in ability, skill and potential, GB have proven their worth in the international game and can use this friendly to learn even more from the world leaders of ice hockey.
(Featured image: Dean Wooley).