Last night in Coventry, Great Britain began their World Championships preparation in earnest, with an impressive performance against KHL side Dinamo Riga, taking a 3 – 1 win in a fantastic defensive display that saw Ben Bowns pick up Man of the Match honours, stopping 41 of 42 shots on the night.
While some of the usual suspects put in fantastic performances again like Bowns, while Ben O’Connor registered an empty net goal and an assist and Matthew Myers was incredibly strong on the penalty kill as usual as well as picking up an assist on the teams opening goal, some of the other players have really given Pete Russell a lot to think about when it comes to picking his final roster for May’s tournament.
It’s very rare you can say you have a good headache, but that’s exactly what some of last nights young stars have given Pete Russell. Competition for places on the roster this year looks fierce, as it usually is, but with a chance to go up against some of the greatest players in the world and in front of some top scouts to try and potentially earn a decent payday similar to how Ben O’Connor earned a KHL contract that unfortunately fell through, a lot of players would love to be heading away on international duty and we may seem some veterans places at risk with some of the young talent that is emerging.
One of the real stand out performers among the young players brought into the line-up for last night’s game was Lewis Hook of the Belfast Giants who was credited with an assist on the opening goal of the game, but it was his off the puck play that really stood out on that passage of play.
As Luke Ferrera picked up the puck in the neutral zone, cutting towards the blueline with a head of steam, Hook was dangerously close to putting the entire play offside, but made a great body adjustment to straddle the blueline and keep the play onside, allowing Ferrera to enter the offensive zone cleanly, before putting a quick shot past Kristers Gudlevskis for the game’s opening goal.
Throughout the course of the game, Hook impressed with his two-way ability, creating opportunities at one end of the ice as comfortably as he was in assisting to break down the Riga attack at the other, in what was an impressive showing for the 22-year-old who’s won a gold and bronze medal at the U20 level, and could see himself in with a chance at representing the senior squad for the first time at an international tournament if he can continue this form in the national sides warmup games, and his impressive form as part of the Belfast Giants.
Another young forward who could make Pete Russell’s job more stressful is a 23-year-old who could already be described as an EIHL veteran in Oliver Betteridge of the Nottingham Panthers.
Last year Betteridge represented the senior side for the first time, registering an assist in the GB’s gold medal performance at the Division 1A tournament in Hungary, and is no stranger to the national set up after an impressive run for the U18 and U20 sides, winning a gold and bronze as part of the same team as Lewis Hook at the U20 level.
A young forward with over 200 games of EIHL experience already, Betteridge is no stranger to performing at a high level, and last night showcased a dogged determination, especially on the forecheck, applying a lot of pressure whenever Dinamo Riga were in their own zone, forcing a few juicy turnovers as well that unfortunately for him didn’t turn into a goal as he was held off the scoresheet, but not for a lack of trying.
An energy style forward, he’s got good legs under him that he uses well to combine speed and aggression in the offensive zone, and could turn into a solid penalty killer as well with good defensive instincts, and a lot like Hook, if he can put in another good showing as the teams preparation games in April when they take on Hungary, Italy and then two games against KHL side Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod, he could be on the flight to Slovakia.
The last player we’re going to highlight is a young Brit who’s really announced himself to the league over the last two years in Jordan Cownie of the Dundee Stars, who’s on course to set a season high in points in the EIHL, currently with 21 points through 43 games, three points shy of last season’s totals of 24 points in 50 games.
Like Betteridge and Hook, Jordan Cownie has been great through the GB Junior ranks, and now could be in with a chance at making his first appearance at the senior level this May, but if not you wouldn’t bet against it being the year after he gets a call up if he continues on his current trajectory.
Another player who was excellent on the Brits aggressive forecheck last night, Cownie created a couple of good chances for GB, including capitalising on a loose puck after another great forecheck, only to see his pass catch a patch of bad ice and bobble over the stick of Betteridge, otherwise it would’ve been a great tape-to-tape pass to set up Betteridge to go in alone against the goalie.
One player who is making a cause for his inclusion in the final squad this year might not be a youngster anymore, but 27-year-old Ciaran Long has emerged as a hugely successful British player in the EIHL right now for the Manchester Storm, with 43 points in 44 games in just his second year in the league after a lengthy and successful career in the lower leagues, winning several team awards.
He was a great performer in his younger days for the U20 and U18 programmes, winning a U18 gold and U20 silver medal in the 08/09 season, before adding a gold and bronze at the U20 levels the following two seasons.
As he enters his prime years of his career, Long is possibly the biggest threat to some of the veteran players, and there’s little question as to whether he deserves a call up in May after the season he’s having, and he further cemented that argument with a solid performance with his play last night despite being held off the scoresheet.
With some of the young guns in the line-up working so effectively as they make a statement of intent to be part of the final squad, it shows a trend in the right direction for the national team as a whole. With some key figures like captain Jonathan Phillips, and other players like Matthew Myers coming into the final chapters of their careers over the next couple of seasons, having a strong showing from some of the young guys already shows there is a fresh batch of young talent coming in ready to challenge for spots, and with other youngsters like Liam Kirk and Sam Duggan also emerging from the U20 system more recently and Kieran Brown also coming through the rankings, the national team is looking like it’s in safe hands for the future.
Featured Image: Dean Woolley/Team GB.