Photo Credit: Paul Foster. IHUK and MKL logos used with permission.
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.
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.