Category: 5daysofGB

December 4th, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

Next week GB U20s travel to Megeve in the French Alps for their World Championship group. After bouncing straight back up, winning the gold medal and promotion from Div 2A last year (after relegation on a technicality in 2014), they are back in Div 1B and this will be a much tougher competition.

Two years ago, they came 5th in the division, but with a creditable 6 points gained from a win against Japan (6th), an overtime win against France (3rd) and perhaps most impressive, an overtime loss from gold medallists Italy. Of course, with the nature of the junior teams, all teams in the division have had a lot of turnover since then, so prior results don’t necessarily mean anything and the fact is that this will be a tough test for the team, but avoiding relegation and cementing their place in the division will be crucial. Tom Watkins says “We know we can do it. But the group of players out on the ice, they change year on year – you don’t have the luxury of signing a guy from outside, you have to pick from what is in front of you – but that’s the same for every team. You never know how those individuals are going to stack up against other countries. I don’t think that this group, as U18’s achieved what they should have, hopefully that will change now though. We have some really good guys, some new players, we’ve got some players who are playing a decent level of hockey and doing fine. I think we have to be really positive about what we have.”

He went on to add: “Hopefully our goal tending is going to be solid and give us an opportunity to win and ultimately stay in the group. I’m not trying to put pressure on my boys, but it is such a huge position to get right.”

GB start their campaign against top seeds Slovenia who were relegated from Div 1A last year but not by a big margin. GB U20s have played Slovenia 4 times in the last 15 years and have never beaten them with our best result coming in 2000 when we managed a 3-3 draw. The most recent game was 3 years ago in 2012 when they beat GB 8-0 on their way to the Div1B gold medal. Slovenia have submitted a 33 man long-list for this championships and only 8 players (7 forwards and a NM) played for the U20 team in the previous year, although a further 7 were in the team that took silver at the U18 Div1B last year. Returning players include their top goal scorer from last year Zan Jezovsek who had 4+0 and top points-scorer Nik Simsic with 2+3.  Of the 33 players named to the Slovenian long list in total, all but one are 1996 or 1997 so there is a good chance that their final team will have no underage players. “I think it will be tough – I’m sure Slovenia will be well prepared and be a side with the skill that can handle it at that level – so it may be a baptism of fire.” Tom Watkins said, then added “But you know what, how great if we could start the tournament with a win over the number one seeds!”

Up next will be Poland – the third seeds in the tournament after their bronze medal last year.  At U20 level, Poland and GB have only met once, 3 years ago when Poland took the game 6-2. Perhaps more telling are recents results between the teams at U18 level. These teams met last year with Poland winning the game 4-1 and overall their team took silver to GB’s bronze at the tournament. No long-list has been submitted by Poland yet, so it is difficult to gauge who might be returning or not to the squad. But last year’s top scorers for the Polish team in this tournament are now overage.

After a rest day, GB will face 2nd seeds Ukraine – a team they have faced 3 times at U20 level with a record of loss (2014), OT Loss (2013) and win (2011). Ukraine’s long list of 36 players includes all 11 players (8 forwards and 3 D-men) from last year’s U20 team who are still eligible for this year. This includes top scorer Yevgen Tymchenko who scored 3 from their 10 goals.

After the second rest day, GB face 4th seeds and tournament hosts France. Two years ago, GB beat France on penalty shots. Last year France just missed out on a medal, equalling the points total of Poland and just one behind silver medalists Ukraine.  What also may be telling is that their U18 team play 2 levels above the GB U18s though and won the bronze medal in Div 1A last year – so there is a good chance that this year they may be a much stronger team than they were 2 years ago. France have provided a long list of 34 which includes all 8 players eligible to return from last year’s team (5 forwards, 3 D-men and a NM) and this includes their top scorer Guillame Leclerc who had an impressive 4+2 last year – making him involved in more than half of the 11 goals his team scored.

On the final day, GB face 5th seeds Japan. Japan came bottom of the group 2 years ago and only avoided relegation due to GB’s disqualification. However, last year saw an improved performance and they survived on merit, placing 5th after a regulation win against relegated Hungary took them over the line on the final day. They did also record a win after penalty shots with France on the first day, so anything other than a regulation loss would have been enough. There is no long list available from Japan yet, but perhaps the best news for GB is that Yushinoh Hirano, who was their star forward last year, with 6+2 – making him involved in more than half of their 15 goals, is now too old. Note: Japan have now withdrawn from the tournament – see the 09-Dec-2015 update towards the end of the article.

One thing we can be relatively sure of is that this is going to be a tough tournament for the GB team. All the senior teams for the countries have a higher world ranking than the GB mens team and played in a higher division than them last year (Japan, Poland and Ukraine in Div 1A; France and Slovenia in the top tier). Of course that doesn’t always correlate to a better U20s team, but it is generally a good indicator of the how advanced their overall program is.  We have played and been competitive at this level before and I think we can do so again. Goals should be realistic ones though – this is not a tournament that we will expect to medal in. Although nobody is suggesting that the team do not give everything to try and win every game, the likelihood is that this is going to be somewhat of a fight for survival this year and perhaps really targeting the game against Japan on the final may be what is needed this year.

Head coach Tom Watkins has himself attended a total of 10 World Championships at all levels, now, 5 as a player and 5 as an assistant coach. I asked him how well that prepared him for being in the hot seat of the head coach role. “I think when you get there a lot of things that you are supposed to do for the directorate – so it’s good to know that those things happen. But also, sometimes as an assistant you are not really aware of everything that is happening, with all the planning stages that you need to do as head coach and it is a lot more responsibility obviously.”

Talking about his assistant coaches (Slava Koulikos joins the team this year and Paul Heavey returns) and how they will work together, he added “Ultimately, it is my responsibility to make the decision though – but I’ll of course want their opinions on where we can make changes to the team when we need to. We are a group of staff that need to work together. I’m sure a lot of the other teams will have a goal keeping coach and a video coach for example, but because we are a smaller team, we probably work together a bit closer than other teams.”

I asked Watkins about the additional players he still has to add in (Sam Duggan, Alex Forbes, Josh Grieveson and Cameron McGiffin): “Depth at these tournaments is massive. There is a lot of hockey played in a short space of time. We’ll be picking up and changing things as we go along depending on the situations. The guys still to come in are some pretty important players for this team, so I’m sure it will make a difference to where we are as a team. In terms of what we have planned for the lines, we were switching around with what we had tonight – trying different line combinations and I thought we did OK. But there will be adjustments through the week of the tournament as well.”

Finally, I asked Watkins how the hockey now compares to when he played in a U20 world championship 20 years ago. “I think the use of video and the knowledge of what other teams are doing is more readily available, so in terms of what to expect, I think the players now are probably more prepared for what they are playing against. Has it massively changed though: no it’s the same game – the desire is the same, the heart is the same, the will to win is the same. Maybe some things like the sticks are different, the puck probably travels a little bit quicker but it’s down to the equipment more than anything – technology has started to improve the game a lot.” In answer to my rather cheeky follow-up question about whether the team he played on would have beaten the team he is coaching today: “I am going to say: I think the team back then would have beaten them – no, I can’t say that can I?! No, to be honest, I can’t even remember that much about the tournament – I don’t know…”.

482 Days would like to wish the team good luck in their upcoming tournament. From watching the game on Wednesday I think there is a huge amount of talent on the team and a few players who could well be pushing for a spot on the senior team in a few years time. I am sure they are going to do us proud next week.

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Update: Wednesday 09-Dec-2015

News is out today that Japan have withdrawn from this year’s competition. What does this mean for GB. Well firstly, and perhaps most importantly, it means that GB cannot now be relegated as Japan are automatically awarded 5 losses and have already been relegated to Div 2a. In some ways, this is a turn-around to the situation 2 years ago when Japan themselves were saved from relegation from the group when GB were disqualified for icing an ineligible player.

For the GB team, it also means that their tournament is now over on Day 5 as they were scheduled to play Japan on the final day (Day 7). It also means that in some ways the tournament is going to be a lot tougher as Japan was potentially going to be their most winnable game.

Regardless of this, GB are going to want to show that they deserve to be in the group by rights and would have stayed in on their own merit. We’ll never know if we would have beaten Japan, but it takes something away from the team if they come 5th now as they will still be ‘bottom’ of the group whereas before it will have been seen as meeting their objectives.  This may put pressure on them to perform even better than original expectations before today. Then again, the fact that they know that they can’t be relegated could allow them to use this year as a learning experience about the level of hockey they will be facing and come back even stronger next year. Perhaps even taking that pressure of avoiding relegation away will allow them to play to the best of their ability and have an even better tournament than they might have done otherwise. Only next week will tell what, if any, difference this news will make to their performances.

Overall, I think it is a shame – it means that they won’t be part of the final day of games for the tournament as well as the loss of what could have been an interesting game for them. It gives the team one game less of experience to learn from as well as taking away the ‘we must survive’ mentality that can really bind a team together.

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Huge thanks to IHUK and MK Lightning for helping us to facilitate these articles and all of our coverage around the game, @gbhockeyfuture who gave me some fantastic background detail on the team and the upcoming tournament, to Tom Watkins for taking the time after the game to sit down and chat with me as well everyone who gave me their thoughts over the last week or so. This would be a much less interesting series without your help guys!

This is the last in our #5DaysofGB  series of coverage by 482 Days around the team this week:

  • On Monday we had a quick preview of Wednesday’s game and a first brief words from Tom Watkins (article link: here)
  • On Tuesday, we had a player by player review of this year’s GB U20s team, including thoughts from the team-mates and coaches that work with them every week in their regular league teams (article link: here)
  • On Wednesday, we saw live twitter coverage of the game between the GB U20 team and the EPL’s MK Lightning (you can take a look at our tweets on @482days).
  • Yesterday, we had a review of the game, including some thought by Tom Watkins on the team’s performance (article link: here)

You can also find a great set of photos from Paul Foster of game action from Wednesday here.

Posted in 5daysofGB, GB Teams

December 3rd, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

Last night, the GB U20s team had their final warm-up game ahead of their Division 1B World Championship tournament in Meheve, France which starts next Saturday (12th December). The team lost 3-0 to the MK Lightning, but can hold their heads up as Lightning are no mugs, currently sitting in 2nd place in the EPL and having a wealth of experience on the team.

MK were the stronger team – but some of that was down to the size differential and a lot down to the fact that these were players who play together every week. The issue for GB, as it is for any national team that simply don’t have the chance to play together often, is that they don’t know each other as well as they would like to and that makes it a lot more difficult to play together as a solid unit and anticipate what your line-mates will do and where exactly they will be.

Defensively, as would be expected Harvey Stead and Callum Buglass played very well together as they know each others game inside out and it showed. They were a very tight unit and moved very well together as a pair, keeping their respective zones clear, switching when they needed to and transitioning the play very well give GB breaks forward.

The forward line of Lewis Hook, Oliver Betteridge and Ivan Antonov was probably the strongest as a trio – they were the ones who tended to get a bit deeper into the MK zone and had some really strong passing moves to work their way up the ice with speed. On an individual basis, Macauley Heywood really caught my eye: he’s got an real turn of speed to him and carries the puck incredibly well. I also liked the look of Connor Glossop – he seems to have a real eye for a strong transition pass and usually hit the stick of a flying team-mate bang on.

Between the pipes, both Jordan Hedley and Ben Churchfield looked good. Hedley maybe had just the edge there in terms of confidence, but both netminders had very good movement and made some excellent stops. Importantly, they didn’t let too many rebounds out in front of the net for MK forwards to jump on – both were good at directing pucks behind or off to the sides. The three shots that beat them were all very high quality from Bakrlik and I am not sure how many would have been stopped by anyone!

There were some real positives for GB – head coach Tom Watkins has really got them working hard and there never seemed to be a time when all 5 skaters on the ice were not moving. Every player was fore-checking and back-checking hard and they did try and both attack and defend as a 5-man unit with each player on the ice playing their parts. He said “I was pleased with their work ethic and their coachability tonight. I don’t think we were really looking for a result this evening, we were playing against a team that were more organised, quicker and perhaps individually better players than we were.” Certainly MK have a lot of players with a great deal more experience and this was always going to be a tough test for the youngsters but they definitely gave MK a good game and made them work hard for their win and it was certainly a worthwhile game to play.

Things to work on for me would be really trying to get deeper into their attacking zone and working the keeper – making him move and picking up the rebounds so that he has to make multiple saves. Of course, MK played their part in stopping that as they were very good defensively but GB maybe had too high a proportion of long range shots as they skated into the zone rather than trying to do a delay and wait for team-mates to set up to gain better scoring chances.

GB had five chances on the PP and were not able to take advantage of any of them. When I asked Tom Watkins about this he said “On the first PP we should have scored, we came close. For there, the longer it goes, the less confident we were to shoot the puck. We started to try and force things that weren’t there. To be fair to the guys, we’ve only practised the PP once, that was this morning at practice. It’s always something that evolves. We went with five forwards on our first unit today. I thought they did well, but our breakout and our entry could be a lot better. It’s something we can establish as time goes on.” Watkins then went on to discuss the issue of regular PP experience for his players: “We don’t have a lot of guys here who play a lot of power play time. That’s no offence to their coaches.  but they play on strong teams and there are guys ahead of them, so perhaps there is not a lot of experience of PP time.”

Watkins thought that tonight was a good test for his team, but added that “I actually think it (the WC tournament) will be faster and it will obviously be a lot more intense than it was this evening. We’re going to have to adjust to that quite quickly. I also think it will be a lot more physical than it was tonight – we’ve got to be prepared and we’ve got to be ready for it.”.

One very bright note is how clean GB played the game. They conceded no penalties – and that wasn’t because anything was missed by the ref, they really did play very clean hockey. Watkins admitted that he actually asked referee Deanna Cuglietta to give them a penalty so that they could practice their PK! “She said she couldn’t find anything to give us one from our play – and I can hardly tell here off that she didn’t give us a penalty!” He went on to add “If we can stay disciplined and play 5 on 5 in the WC, that’s going to be important for us.” Conceding more penalties than their opposition has sometimes been an issue for GB at all levels in international competitions and if the team can keep their play as clean as they did tonight then it will give them a huge boost. Watkins did say “I think it’s the speed of the game and the ability of the players you are playing against. It’s not because we are indisciplined – it’s perhaps because we are not in position and we’re reaching and end up putting sticks on bodies.”

For Lightning, their newest acquisition, Frantisek Bakrlik, who joined the team just last week from Bracknell Bees scored all three goals in the game (one in each period). The Czech import was a very classy player and I have to admit I have never seen anyone in the UK with a better eye for the back of the net than him in that game. Netminder, Jordan Marr recorded a shut-out, and although he looked incredibly solid, although I think he could have been tested better – but the MK defence were very good at keeping the shots mostly from distance and not giving GB too many chances to get in close and force Marr to move quickly. I also thought that Ryan Coffey, who had a call-up from MK Thunder looked really good – he didn’t look out of place at all, made a couple of superb passes and is probably a good EPL prospect for the future. The PK unit from MK was absolutely exceptional. I actually think someone could have used a video of last night’s game to teach kids how to do a 4-man box defence in your own zone. GB’s five powerplay chances all went pretty much the same way – lots of possession in the MK zone but not many genuine chances for a goal. This was due to the MK box being happy to give GB the outside of the zone but absolutely cutting them off from the centre, clearing players out and ensuring Marr was rarely screened or in danger of conceding one from a rebound.

Overall a great game to watch and an excellent final warm-up for the GB team.

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Huge thanks to IHUK and MK Lightning for helping us to facilitate these articles and our further coverage of the game, @gbhockeyfuture who gave me some fantastic background detail on the team as well everyone who gave me their thoughts on the individual players. This would be a much less interesting article without your help guys!

The final warm-up before they head to the WC in France will be against MK Lightning on Wednesday (2nd Dec) at 7:45pm. Tickets are priced at just £6 for adults, £2 for concessions with children under 16 getting free entry.  I strongly encourage anyone who can to come along and support the teams. To buy tickets in advance, call 01908 540 020 or follow this link. You can also visit the Milton Keynes Arena box office in person.

482 Days will have a total 5 days of coverage around the game in our #5daysofGB series:

  • On Monday we had a quick preview of Wednesday’s game and a first brief words from Tom Watkins (article link: here)
  • On Tuesday, we had a player by player review of this year’s GB U20s team, including thoughts from the team-mates and coaches that work with them every week in their regular league teams (article link: here)
  • Yesterday saw live twitter coverage of the game between the GB U20 team and the EPL’s MK Lightning (you can take a look at our tweets on @482days).
  • Tomorrow, we’ll have a look ahead to the upcoming Div 1B World Championships (12-18 December in Megève, France).  Again we’ll include Tom Watkins’s thoughts on the upcoming tournament and GB’s prospects.

You can find a great set of photos from Paul Foster of game action here.

Posted in 5daysofGB, GB Teams

December 1st, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

It’s Day 2 of our #5daysofGB series and today we thought we’d take a more in-depth look at exactly who is in the squad that will travel to France for the tournament.

So what do we know about the current GB team? I’ll admit that I’m not an expert on these lads! So I’ve gone to the guys who they play with or who coach them, for some thoughts to add to what I do know.

Netminders
Between the pipes, the likely No. 1 is Jordan Hedley.  This will be the 19 year old’s 3rd GB U20 Jordan Hedleytournament.  He’s played 2nd fiddle to Adam Goss for the last two years but was the GB U18 starter two years ago and is getting a decent amount of ice time in the EPL with Swindon as well this season, plus he has the major advantage of working with Stevie Lyle. He is considered to be an EPIHL quality netminder with the potential to move up the ladder, with the prospect of GB senior hockey in the future. Former Swindon Captain Shane Moore, who still keeps a close watch on the team, had this to say about him “Jordan Hedley stepped up last year with MK Lightning and proved he could play regular minutes at a good level. This year, under the watchful eye of Stevie Lyle, he has proven he has the skill set to be one of the best British goalies we have seen in years, and I’m excited to see how he performs for GB 20’s”

More of an unknown is 19 year old netminder Ben Churchfield, who has split his junior career between the UK and the US, starting here as an U10 before moving the US, then returning at the age of 14, going on to make U15 conference and U16 England teams before heading back to the US last season where he currently plays for a Portland team in the tier 3 US U20 junior system. Before heading back to the US, he played for the Sheffield NIHL and NIHL2 teams as well as his U18 teams and his captain in the Sheffield Spartan NIHL1 team, Oliver Barron, told us “I played with Churchy for a few years at NIHL level with the Spartans, He was improving every week and now he is a great goalie. You can count on Churchy to be consistent each game, often coming up with some game winning saves, he is only going to go from strength to strength playing with the Portland Pirates, all that mixed with him being a great team mate. I’m sure he will have a great tournament for GB, I see a big future in the game for Ben”. GB U20’s head coach Tom Watkins added “Ben has a great attitude and desire to represent his country. He has a high work ethic, good level of athleticism and impressed the coaching staff over the selection process”.

Defence
Callum BuglassIn defence, Swindon Wildcats players Callum Buglass and Harvey Stead are likely to be the top pairing and the two play together on a regular basis for Swindon. They are both in their 3rd year at GB U20’s and are getting regular minutes in the EPL. Buglass especially is said to be thriving at EPL level and has been garnering praise from Swindon fans. Their Swindon team-mate and former GB U20 defenceman Matt Selby had this to say about the pair: Buggy is a solid defence man who has a consistency about his game. He’s such a smart player Harvey Steadwith a great stick – that’s due to the fact it’s 7ft and he’s a big boy! Callum will be huge for GB on special teams, especially using his reach to take lanes away on the PK. Harvey is another great player. As much as he will hate me saying this I think Harvey is more like myself within his style. Harvey has a good edge to his game and will be explosive. I’ve seen him make some huge hits already this season and with him being the top age for the tournament he should dominate away for GB! 

Edinburgh Capitals defenceman, 19 year old Jay King, has not featured in the GB set-up previously, but is already in his 4th season with Edinburgh Capitals in the Elite League where he currently plays 3rd line and gets around 8-10 minutes of ice per game. Team mate and fellow Caps defenceman Kyle Flemington had this to say about him In my opinion he has achieved a lot for a kid his age. He is playing in the top league in Great Britain and not only that, but he is playing on a very good team this season with us sitting in 4th place currently. Last season he proved he was good enough to make an impact at the elite league level, this season has been a little different for him as we have an improved roster but for a kid his age it’s not a bad thing, this a season for Jay where he needs to soak up everything he is learning and bring it into the GB world junior tournament where he will hopefully be one of the ‘go to’ guys on the team. Furthermore I think he has a bright future ahead of him in the elite league and hopefully on the world stage with team GB for years to come.

Also in his final year as an U20 player is Cameron McGiffin. He was selected to the GB U18 team two years ago but missed out on selection for the U20’s last year, only making it to the reserve level. He’s in his third season in the EPL and second playing for Peterborough Phantoms where he is very highly regarded, having won the ‘most improved’ award last season and certainly gets a good amount of ice time in their games. Fellow Peterborough defenceman and former GB U20, Tom Norton, says “Cameron is great young defencemen who has good size and strength. You could see him improving every game last season and he has come into this season doing the same again and adding more offence to his game as well which is great to see. It’s quite scary to think he’s not even in his 20’s yet, he has a very bright future if he keeps working hard.”

Josh GrievesonJosh Grieveson is currently playing his hockey with the Middlesex Black Bears in the US High School hockey league after he earned a 4 year hockey scholarship to play in the US at the tender age of 13. This will be his second year in the U20 team and his 4th international tournament overall. In his first U18 tournement two years ago he was awarded the honour of ‘best player’ in the team as selected by the IIHF officials. Steve Piatelli, assistant coach at Middlesex Black Bears, says “Josh’s teammates and coaches have 100% confidence in him. Josh is a “no mistakes” defenseman because even when he does make an error, which is very rare, he works twice as hard to save the play. You can’t coach that kind of work ethic”.

Rounding out the defence are Edwards Knaggs and Oliver Stone. Both are still eligible at the U18 level and will likely play a major part in that team.  For the U20’s they are likely to play limited minutes in this tournament with the hopes of developing them into big-minute players for the team over the next 2 years. Knaggs is another player with a 2-way between Thunder and Lightning in MK, although the majority of his ice time is with the senior EPL team. Paul Gore, player/coach of the MK Thunder had this to say about him “Ed Knaggs is on his way to being a top defencemen. He has all the technical attributes required and sees the ice really well.  Knaggsy has a mature hockey head on young shoulders”. Stone is in his final year with the well regarded Okenagan Hockey Academy, who have seen many of their players selected for the GB junior squads over the last few years, and also plays a few games for Swindon’s NIHL2 team. He is expected to make an EPL squad next season once he finishes his 4 years at OHA. Swindon team-mate Stu Widdows certainly thinks so, he said “Ollie is a confident, smart player who can play in all 3 zones of the ice, he makes decisions beyond his years and has the capability to play at any level in U.K. Hockey”.

Forwards
Up front, the most experienced of the team and a likely shout to wear the ‘C’ is MK Lightning’s Lewis Hook. He’s already pulled on a GB jersey in two U20 and three U18 tournaments and was both top assists scorer (7) and +/- leader (+12) across all teams in last year’s U20 Worlds. He’s thriving with MK Lightning in the EPL and is currently sitting in the top 20 EPLLewis Hook scorers with many tipping him as an Elite league player in the making. He’s the only player still eligible on last year’s top scoring line, with line-mates Cownie and Chamberline now too old. 2 years ago when he was in the same position in U18’s he struggled a little without them, so it will be interesting to see who he is matched with and how that line does this week against Lightning. Jordan Cownie, Hook’s line-mate at MK and last year’s line mate in the GB 20’s team says Great player and an even better guy! He plays his own game and he’ll be successful.. One word.. legend!”.

Centre-man Sam Duggan will also likely play a huge part in the World Championships, although I understand he may not be icing in the MK game. Despite only being 17 and one of the youngest on the team, this will be his 3rd U20 (5th overall) tournament which means he could in theory play in a total of 5 U20’s tournaments in total!. Duggan plays his hockey in the top Swedish junior tiers at both U18 and U20 level and is the captain of his U18 team which Sam Duggancurrently lie in 4th place in their division. He is already being marked as a ‘notable prospect’ for the 2016 NHL entry draft (according to Elite Prospects NHL Draft Center) and is certainly expected to play a significant part in the future of GB hockey, being described by a blogger for his Swedish team as the next Tony Hand. He also won the top faceoff percentage award at both U18 and U20 WCs last year (65.9% and 62.3% respectively) – and that’s also a great weapon for GB to have in their arsenal. Rasmus Senator, a journalist who covers the Swedish junior leagues says “Samuel Duggan is a great skater with plenty of pace together with a good vision for the game. He has been adding up plenty of points with Örebro U18 and a couple games with the U20-squad in the U20 SuperElit-series. I think he will be get many chances with the U20-team and if he continues scoring points and putting on good performances, I think he will be a starter for the U20 team further down this season and the next.

Duggan’s line-mates from the 2014 U18 World were Ivan Antonov and Alex Forbes and they Alex Forbesjoined him on 7 points and in the top ten points-scorers for the tournament. Forbes has been playing on the other side of the Atlantic since winning a hockey scholarship at the age of 14. He played ‘AAA’ level hockey to U18 level at the Ontario Hockey Acadamy and is currently in Utah playing in the Western States Hockey League (U20 tier II). His head coach at Ogden, Jake Laime says “Alex has really found his niche here in Ogden.  He has embraced his role and gets better every game.  Alex takes on a role that has taken a back seat in today’s game.  Blocking shots, finishing hits, sacrificing the body and getting to the dirty areas on a consistent game by game basis is hard to find and this is exactly why Mr. Forbes is excelling.  He has found and perfected many of the smallIvan Antonov things nobody else is doing.  As his confidence and role increases, so has his skill sets and playing time.  Alex wears an “A” for the Mustangs.  He is currently playing on our top line and has found himself very effective on the special teams”. Russian-born, 18 year old Antonov came up through the junior ranks in Bracknell and has been a fixture in their EPL team for the last two seasons, averaging about a point a game. Team-mate and Bee’s alternate captain, James Galazzi, says about him “He’s a quiet, shy and very sharp kid whose an extremely talented hockey player that plays well beyond his 18 years”.

Oliver Betteridge is a young forward who seems to be thriving in the Elite League already. He has been training with the Nottingham Panthers since he was 15 and played his first Elite league game at the tender age of 16. He spent the previous three seasons on a 2-way between Swindon EPL and Nottingham Panthers, but has made the move this year to play full time with the Panthers. He’s been a fixture in the GB system since the 2012/13 season and will be competing in his 5th WC this year but he has yet to have a really breakout performance for in a GB shirt – although many think that this could be his year. He was awarded the ‘C’ in the first warm-up game against Oliver BetteridgeNottingham and so may also be in with a very good shout of wearing it for the tournament. Nottingham Panthers captain and GB senior David Clarke saysIt has been extremely rewarding to see Ollie establish himself with the Nottingham Panthers this season, he’s contributed greatly in many areas already bringing plenty of energy to our line up along with coming up with huge big goals recently. Highlight of his season so far for me would be the way he scored his first EIHL goal against Coventry (October 3rd 2015): a natural goal scorer’s goal on which I gained an assist, though he’s yet to return the favour”. GB and Nottingham’s Stevie Lee added “Over the last couple of years Ollie seems to have really come into his own, he works hard during practise and also does extra after practise. That is good to see, he always wants to get better. He seems to be able to apply his skill set very well. He has a great shot, he is strong on the puck, he is fast and also has some good play making ability.” GB and Nottingham’s Robert Lachowitz also chipped in “Ollie has made the step up to the elite league very well and seems to be very suited to hockey at this level. His path up to the Panthers reminds me of my own. He has made the transition from the EPL well, his hard work is paying off and he is taking advantage of the opportunities that come his way. He has become stronger and has a very good release which has given him the confidence to play and hopefully thrive at this level.”

Luc Johnson, Glenn Billing and Michael Stratford are often referred to as the ‘OHA line’ and Luc Johnsonprior to this season the three had played together at the Okenagan hockey academy in Swindon for the last 2-3 years. At GB U18’s last year they led the team in scoring, all featuring in the tournament’s top 10 for points and Johnson was given the ‘C’ for the tournament. Johnson and Billing have followed their old OHA coach (Peter Russell) to MK Lightning and also have a 2-way deal with NIHL MK Thunder this season, while Stratford has stayed in Swindon and now faces his fellow line-mates in the EPL instead. All three have yet to make a major impact on theGlenn Billing scoring sheets at EPL level, with perhaps Billing just having the edge there, but they’re often able to affect a game with their strong 2-way play and if reunited could be a real force in the team. Paul Gore, player/coach at Thunder has certainly been impressed with Johnson and Billing:Luc Johnson’s pedigree speaks for itself – captaining his country at U18.  A natural leader, Luc can be relied on to perform in any game situation. Glenn Billing is a natural talent and has the potential to become formidable in the higher leagues. They both have great character and are willing to work on their trade and will become stronger and stronger in years to come.

Also an OHA alumni is Tom Rutkis and like Stratford a player at Swindon Wildcats. He had an impressive showing with the GB U20’s last season but surprisingly struggled to find his place in the GB U18s games. He’s been with Swindon Wildcats in the EPL since last season and had good form initially there with 12 from 21 outings in 2014/15, but has struggled to keep up that pace this season. He could find himself hidden down the depth chart in a checking role or he could be put on a scoring line where he breaks out of his funk and finally has a chance to shine.  He can probably do both roles effectively. He has left GB fans wanting more in both tournaments he’s played in but many believe he has the ability to give it at any time. Swindon Wildcats import Carlo Finucci told us a little about Stratford and Rutkis: “Those two come to the rink every day ready to work, and it shows as they have both improved in my short time here. Toms was injured the first few weeks I was here, so it’s good to see him back and stepping into important roles when guys have gone down with injuries. Strats is a big body and when he uses it to his advantage it’s tough to slow him down. When he gets out there he doesn’t seem out of place and I think they will both play important roles for team GB”.

New to the GB set-up is 19 year old Macauley Heywood. He’s now in his 4th season with the Telford Tigers in the EPL and NIHL squads though and pulls in about 2 points a game at NIHL level as well as the odd goal in the EPL. Telford forward Dale White certainly rates him, he says “He’s definitely an up-and-coming player to watch, strong on the puck with good hands and doesn’t have trouble finding the back of the net”

Also winning their first GB caps are 18 year olds Duncan Speirs and Connor Glossop who mostly ply their trade in the NIHL, although Speirs is also on a 2-way with Elite league team Braehead Clan. Speirs made it as far as the final selection round for GB U18s last year before being cut so he’s obviously been on the coach’s radar before now. Solway Sharks team-mate Iain Bowie says “Duncan’s a good young lad, willing to learn and just needs the right guidance. He has some really good hands and a shot. He picks things up easy in the game sense and is smart on the puck and he’s not afraid to throw his body around. That makes him an all round good player”. Glossop is perhaps more of a surprise inclusion, but he did score in the first earlier warm up (against his own team Nottingham Lions) a few weeks ago. Nottingham Lions alternate captain, Adz Andrews, isn’t too surprised. He says “I’ve seen Connor Develop as a person and player of the past 2 years, he’s definitely a player to watch. One of GB’s up and coming hot prospects, Connor gives his all every shift every night. He has bags of talent, is humble and years ahead of his age, Connor’s a player who goes about his business under the radar and let’s his stats do the talking.” 

Last, but by no means least, is 18 year old Lee Bonner, who is a member of the Hull Pirates squad in the EPL and was a member of the GB U18’s team for the last 2 WCs. Bonner has returned to the UK this year after a very successful year abroad where he played U18 ‘AAA’ Lee Bonnerhockey for Iowa Wild, wore an ‘A’ and led his team in scoring.  He also featured in the East Coast Elite League Allstar game and was also one of eight players from the game singled out by the US Hockey Report as one of those who stood out, with the comment Bonner is a small forward who can really fly. Despite his smaller stature (he is listed 5’7″), he is known as being a very physical player and generally plays with a lot of character and heart, rarely taking a shift off. Hull Pirates head coach, Dominic Osman says “Lee is a good player, only getting better and improving day to day playing at this higher level.  He has already shown the commitment and dedication to continue to learn the game.  He is a talented player who has the potential to be a great player for Great Britain in the future.  He’s a good character in the room and is a pleasure working with”.

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Huge thanks to IHUK and MK Lightning for helping us to facilitate these articles and our further coverage of the game, @gbhockeyfuture who gave me some fantastic background detail on the team as well everyone who gave me their thoughts on the individual players. This would be a much less interesting article without your help guys!

The final warm-up before they head to the WC in France will be against MK Lightning on Wednesday (2nd Dec) at 7:45pm. Tickets are priced at just £6 for adults, £2 for concessions with children under 16 getting free entry.  I strongly encourage anyone who can to come along and support the teams. To buy tickets in advance, call 01908 540 020 or follow this link. You can also visit the Milton Keynes Arena box office in person.

482 Days will have a total 5 days of coverage around the game in our #5daysofGB series:

  • Yesterday we had a quick preview of Wednesday’s game and a first brief words from Tom Watkins (article link: here)
  • On Wednesday, we’ll have live twitter coverage of the game between the GB U20 team and the EPL’s MK Lightning (follow us @482days). Not quite play by play, but there will be lots of commentary on the action as well as all the major incidents in the game.
  • On Thursday, there will be a write-up of the game itself, talking about who looked good and caught the eye and will include thoughts from the GB U20 Head Coach Tom Watkins on the game.
  • On Friday, we’ll have a look ahead to the upcoming Div 1B World Championships (12-18 December in Megève, France).  Again we’ll include Tom Watkins’s thoughts on the upcoming tournament and GB’s prospects.

Posted in 5daysofGB, GB Teams

November 30th, 2015 by Nancy Carpenter

GB Under 20’s team are in their final preparations ahead of their world championships competition.  It will be a tough group for them after a fantastic performance last year saw them winning all 5 games (1 in OT) and promoted into Div IB. In this division, they will be playing against France, Japan, Poland, Slovenia and Ukraine and most of these countries are a bit more advanced than GB in the senior game which can be quite a good indication of U20 strength.  It is likely to be a tough tournament for the GB team who’s biggest priority will be to avoid relegation and cement their spot in the division for another year.

2015 team with medals

The good news for the team is that they retain a real core of players from last year with 11 players returning to the team, many of them with significant experience of the pressure of World Championships behind them. Across the whole team they have an impressive total of 27 under-18 and 16 under-20 World Championships played between them – and that’s with 5 players making their international debut this season.

The head coach is new, which can sometimes be a challenge.  However, Tom Watkins is
hardly a stranger to the team having served 4 years as assistWatkins and Russell 2014ant coach under Pete Russell. Watkins has also iced in 5 World Championships himself, including 3 as a senior player – so he will understand well the pressures felt by his team in representing their country.  Having retired as a player in 2013 after a senior playing career that spanned 20 years, of which 13 were spent in the UK’s top flight, Watkins is now head coach of last season’s EPL champions Telford Tigers as well as serving as assistant coach for the GB senior side.

The U20’s have already played one warm up game so far, against NIHL Nottingham Lions who they comprehensively beat 7-0 and on Wednesday they will face a tougher test against EPL opposition in the form of the MK lightning with Watkins going up against his GB senior equivalent, Pete Russell. This should be a real humdinger of a game with the youth of the GB team going up against the considerable experience of an established semi-professional squad who currently sit in 2nd place in the EPL. This will be the GB team’s final warm up before they fly out for their world championships which start just 9 days later and may be a last chance for Watkins to tweak his lines and systems ahead of the tournament.

WatkinsTom Watkins said this about the game: “Firstly I’d like to thank MK Lightning for hosting the GB 20’s on Wednesday. MK have provided us with everything we need in our last warm up game, for which are very grateful. I approached Peter (Russell) a couple of months ago as I felt it was important for us to play a higher calibre opposition as part of our preparation. The teams we will be facing will be of a high standard, they will play with a good level of speed and skill. Its very important that we can adapt from our normal game in the UK to the level of play we will face on a big ice surface”.

I think we can expect a fast and skilful game that could go either way.  The players of MK Lightning have the advantage of playing with each other every week and just that extra bit of experience. However with 4 players in the GB squad, who we assume will all ice for GB, including the high-scoring Hook, they could be a little short benched unless they bring some guests in to fill those spots.

The GB team will also be missing a few players in this game, as some of the team who play abroad won’t be linking up with the squad until just before the World Championship. However, this will give the UK based players a real chance to shine and it’s certainly not the case that all of the top talent play abroad.  Individually, they will know that a huge showing in this game could cement their place on a higher line and their youth should give them an energy that keeps the pace up for the whole 60 minutes. More importantly, they need to show their coach that they can play together well, playing for each other and both attacking and defending as a unit as this is going to be vital against the strong opposition in the WC group.

Face off for the game between this exciting U20’s side and MK Lightning is at 7:45 on Wednesday (December 2nd) and tickets are priced at just £6 for adults, £2 for concessions with children under 16 getting free entry.  I strongly encourage anyone who can to come along and support the teams. To buy tickets in advance, call 01908 540 020 or follow this link. You can also visit the Milton Keynes Arena box office in person.

482 Days will have a total 5 days of coverage around the game in our #5daysofGB series:

  • On Tuesday, we’ll have a big article where we take an in depth look at the GB U20 team. While we don’t pretend to be experts on this incredibly promising group of young players, we’ve gone and talked to the guys who are! We’ve got quotes in from the players and coaches who work with them on a day to day basis in their league teams. Those quoted have an astounding 2500 EIHL/ISL, 1200 EPL and 275 GB Caps (all levels) between them – and that’s without mentioning the experience in teams outside the UK, so it’s a knowledgeable bunch!
  • On Wednesday, we’ll have live twitter coverage of the game between the GB U20 team and the EPL’s MK Lightning (follow us @482days). Not quite play by play, but there will be lots of commentary on the action as well as all the major incidents in the game.
  • On Thursday, there will be a write-up of the game itself, talking about who looked good and caught the eye and will include thoughts from the GB U20 Head Coach Tom Watkins on the game.
  • On Friday, we’ll have a look ahead to the upcoming Div 1B World Championships (12-18 December in Megève, France).  Again we’ll include Tom Watkins’s thoughts on the upcoming tournament and GB’s prospects.

Huge thanks to IHUK and MK Lightning for helping us to facilitate this article and our further coverage of the game. Thanks also to @GBHockeyFuture (always worth a follow on twitter) for help with background information on the team.

Posted in 5daysofGB, GB Teams