Saturday and Sunday saw two pre-tournament games for Team GB. Both against Netherlands, with one held in Sheffield and the other in Coventry, the games were an opportunity for the coaches to try out different skaters and line combinations before they have to make their final selections.
I’ll admit at this point that I’ve never really watched any of the other EIHL teams play. Obviously there is always another team on the ice when I’m watching the Sheffield Steelers, but I tend to suffer from a form of hockey blindness that means all of my focus stays with my team. Add that to the fact that I’m pretty new to hockey, having only really been a fan for the last 12 months, and it leads to me rarely noticing anything about the other team.
So these games were the first time I’ve really had the opportunity to watch other British players in action. While my attention was somewhat focused on the Steelers boys (Phil Hill, Robert Dowd, Jason Hewitt, Jonathan Philips and Danny Meyers), I did get the opportunity to watch some of the other British talents on the ice. I’d heard of a few of the players before – names like Ashley Tait, David Clark and Robert Lachowicz – but I was coming into this with very little knowledge.
The first thing I noticed on Saturday was that the passing between the skaters was of a much higher standard than I’d expected. I remember watching the Steelers at the start of this year, when there was a lot of players who hadn’t had much chance to practice together, and seeing a lot of missed passes. But Team GB was looking pretty good to my novice understanding. Especially when compared to the Netherlands players, who seemed to be passing to open ice more often than to a teammate.
The second thing I noticed was Ben Bowns [Hull Stingrays] in goal. Another disclaimer here: I love goalies. I’m fascinated by their unique skills and their unique quirks. Even teams that I can’t stand, I tend to like their goalie. Ben Bowns certainly caught my attention. He made some brilliant saves and looked completely confident between the posts for the entire game. I’d expected him to be pulled after 40 minutes to give Mike Will a chance, but it didn’t happen. I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to him in the future, I think.
I remember noticing Matty Davies [Hull Stingrays] and Jonathan Boxill [Nottingham Panthers], and after someone asked me to look out for Matt Towe [Braehead Clan], I couldn’t help watching him on the ice. And of course, I was thrilled at how well our Steelers were playing, Phil Hill especially. He stood out as part of Team GB far more than I’d ever seen him do with the Steelers and scored a fantastic goal. I was really pleasantly surprised at how well everyone was playing. They outshone Netherlands completely, with a final score of 3-0.
Today, I’m watching a very very different game. While GB are still playing well, there seems to be a complete 180 degree flip for the Netherlands. The first goal they scored was one that I bet Ben Bowns wishes he could get back, and while GB followed up with some nice goals (including another for Phil Hill), the two teams were far more evenly matched.
Dragging the game out into overtime, Netherlands finally scored the game winner on a Power Play. Final score 4-5.
A disappointing end for Team GB, but in the long run, I don’t think it means anything. We have a damn good team this year, and they’re only going to improve when they get to Lithuania next week. They play Netherlands again on 24th April. Hopefully the result will be more like Saturday’s win than today’s.
First game for Team GB is on Sunday 20th against Croatia. Then it’s Monday 21st [Romania], Wednesday 23rd [Lithuania], Thursday 24th [Netherlands] and the final game on Saturday 26th against Poland, who are slated to be our biggest rivals.
Should be a good week.
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