Much like the goalies for this year, it’s a completely new look defence for Slava Koulikov’s men, with seven new faces patrolling the blueline at the upcoming World Junior Championships Division 2A over in Tallinn, Estonia.
The seven defencemen play across four leagues, with two signed to EIHL contracts with Reece Cochrane of the Fife Flyers, Jordan Griffin of the Sheffield Steelers who’s on a two-way with the Sutton Sting and Joseph Hazeldine who’s on a two-way deal with the Nottingham Panthers and Telford Tigers of the NIHL, while five of this group took home a gold medal at the U18 tournament in April.
Bradley Bowering (16) will make his U20 debut for the side as the youngest member of the roster. The 16-year-old currently plays for the Peterborough Phantoms in the NIHL where he has spent his entire junior career with, captaining the U15 side, as well as featuring as an alternate captain for the U18 side last year where he posted an incredible 37 points in just 9 games. A good prospect as a two-way threat, Bowering may be the youngest on the team so could see a limited role this year, but the experience gained will be vital going forward for him to become a leading member of the U20 programme over the next couple of years.
From the youngest to the oldest, Cameron Pound (19) will be making his second appearance for the U20 side after he was part of the 2016-17 side, registering 3 points in 5 games as a 17-year-old, the same year he also shone for the U18 side earning the most assists and points as a defenseman, the best plus/minus overall in the tournament and also being named to the GB’s top player. The 19-year-old currently plays his junior hockey in Canada in the OJHL for the Kingston Voyageurs, after initially moving across the pond in 2013 to join the Canadian International Hockey Academy (CIHA). A solid threat at both ends of the ice, he’s got great vision as a playmaker and good breakout ability. This year he’s posted 15 points in 33 games for Kingston, leading all defensemen on the team, and there’s a real chance he could be one of the best defensemen in the entire tournament next month.
The remaining five defensemen all have earned a spot on the U20 side just a year after helping the U18 side to a gold medal last April and will all have fond memories of their last trip to Estonia.
Edward Bradley (17) and Ben Solder (18) make their U20 debuts after they both finished as the teams and the tournaments highest scorers with four points on their way to a Gold Medal.
Bradley currently plays over in Canada for the CIHA where he’s the captain of the Midget AAA side, leading all defenseman on the side in points with 17 in 21 games, after he led all defenseman in the league last year finishing with 28 points in 31 games. He’s got tremendous vision for his age as a puck moving defenseman with offensive upside. He’s got size on him already at just 17-years-old at 6’0” and coming up to 180lbs so he can use that frame well to break up plays in his own zone either by closing lanes or physically, and he could be a future U20 captain over the coming years.
Solder is another British prospect over in Canada right now, joining the Ontario Hockey Academy in 2015, and right now leads the entire U18 programme at a point-per-game pace with 11 in 11, and third among defensemen in the league behind Canadians Cooper Hood and Derek Pys. He’s a decent offensive defenceman at 18-years-old and if he can replicate his club performances in next month’s tournament, he should be one of the leading members of Koulikov’s side.
The final three remaining in the defensive ranks have all racked up game time in the EIHL over the past two-seasons with Fife Flyers prospect Reece Cochrane (17) closing in on 50 games over the past two seasons already, with 43 games. While he’s yet to get his first point in the EIHL, during his time in the SNL he has proven himself a gifted two-way defenseman with a bright future. With him spending time with the Flyers organisation who have a host of good young talent coming through, he’s in a great spot for his future development, and should have a decent future ahead of him. He’s not the biggest guy but has great offensive upside when he gets going and could be a great special team guy for the U20s in this tournament to quarterback the powerplay. He’s obviously got great smarts in his own zone and able to read the play with and without the puck very well, and his puck moving is underrated, he’ll be a key guy to keep an eye on for the U20 over the next few tournaments.
Now to the guy with the second most EIHL appearances to his name in Joseph Hazeldine (17) who has 21 appearances since making his Nottingham Panthers debut in the 2016/17 season and has featured in 15 games for the organisation this year. While splitting time with the Telford Tigers, Hazledine is establishing himself as one of the best defensive prospects in the country. He’s got decent size for his age, but once he fills out his frame a bit more will become a lot stronger as a physical player in his own zone, using his body to separate man from puck with intelligent plays to try and outmuscle opponents. A gifted two-way player, he’s on a point-per-game pace in the NIHL for the Tigers this year, already beating last years season totals he had while playing for the Swindon Wildcats. He’s in a great position to be part of the Panthers organisation right now, learning from one of the best in Britain in Steve Lee, and with another up and coming prospect Josh Tetlow, Hazledine has stacks of time to round off the edges before becoming a regular face in the EIHL.
Lastly and by no means least in Jordan Griffin (16) of the Sheffield Steelers and Sutton Sting and the latest apprentice for the Steelers, he’s got a great resumé in the national team, captaining the U16 side previously while also being part of the U18 team to take gold last year. He’s got size already for a 16-year-old and bags of energy and plays a hard game. He skates well and has an incredibly big future waiting for him once he’s able to fully develop his body as he ages as well as his game. He can hit, he can break out effortlessly and he’s not shy of joining the rush. Right now, for the Sutton Sting he’s posted 4 points in 16 games as a 16-year-old, and skated 11 times for the Steelers through the course of the year. While at 16 he may be reduced to less ice time than some of the others on this list, he’s going to be a leader of the U20 set up in a couple of seasons time, and it’s great to see so many youngsters brought in to add stability to the system and experience that could lead them over the line to secure gold and promotion.