Photo Credits: Colin Lawson - IceHockeyMedia (unless otherwise stated). IHUK and MKL logos used with permission.
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.
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 assistant 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.
Tom 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.