Photo Credits: All courtesy of IceHockeyMedia, feature image - Ian Hanlon. IHUK and MKL logos used with permission.
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.
Between the pipes, the likely No. 1 is Jordan Hedley. This will be the 19 year old’s 3rd GB U20 tournament. 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”.
In 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 with 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 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”.
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 EPL 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 currently 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 joined 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 small 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 Nottingham 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 says “It 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 prior 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 the 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’ hockey 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”.
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.