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TWO WEEKS ON FROM AN UNFORGETTABLE NIGHT!

It’s hard to believe but it’s already been two weeks since Great Britain beat Italy at a packed Motorpoint Arena to win promotion to the 2024 World Championship in Czechia.

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When you think of GB ice hockey’s biggest moments in recent years, Robert Farmer’s goal in Hungary in 2018 and Ben Davies’ overtime winner in Slovakia in 2019 spring to mind.

The 2021 behind-closed-doors World Championship in Riga where Liam Kirk announced himself on the world stage and finished joint top scorer was memorable, as GB beat Belarus 4-3 for their first regulation-time win at the top level since 1962.

But the World Championship Division I Group A at the Motorpoint Arena could just top the lot as a series of moments led Great Britain back to the top flight in-front of a boisterous home crowd.

GB beat Korea 4-0 on the opening day as a crowd of over 4,000 saw GB set the tone by taking the lead within the first two minutes and dominate for much of the night.

Ben Bowns posted a 17-shot shutout while there were goals for Ben Lake, Robert Dowd, Cade Neilson and Liam Kirk.

Johnny Curran, Nathanael Halbert and Sam Ruopp made their debuts with Curran becoming the 426th player to represent GB, Halbert 427 and Curran 428.

Head Coach, Pete Russell, said: “We are happy with our first game but there are things we can improve on.

“We made a fast start and that was important as it set the tone for the game.

“We had amazing backing from the supporters and they really made a difference with their noise.”

Sunday’s game against Poland was a thriller on an afternoon when Robert Lachowicz won his 75th cap in his home town.

The Nottingham-born forward set-up Jonathan Phillips for GB’s opener inside two minutes to set the tone for a pulsating encounter.

Neilson and Kirk ensured GB led 3-1 at the second intermission but the game was far from over as Poland roared back in the third period.

Mike Hammond’s late powerplay goal looked to have won it for GB, but Poland’s Bartosz Frasko sent the game to overtime.

Bowns made a good pad save to deny Pawel Zygmunt inside the opening 30 seconds of the extra period, before Kirk and Halbert set-up Lake to score the winner at the backdoor on the powerplay at 62:35.

In game three against Lithuania, Bowns posted a 28-shot shutout as GB made it three wins from three.

GB went ahead after only 67 seconds when Evan Mosey won the puck on the boards and fed Neilson who cut inside from the right, came away from a challenge and fired past Mantas Armalis.

Kirk and Neilson combined to set-up Dowd who out-waited the defender before scoring GB’s second on the powerplay with a neat wrist-shot from the left circle.

Halbert wrapped the game up with an empty-net goal from his own zone for his first GB goal.

Assistant Coach, Chuck Weber, said: “We weren’t at our best that’s for sure but the main thing is we secured the win.

“We had the puck a lot tonight and spent so time on the powerplay and we know we will have to improve going forward.

“We also know we have to win out now if we are to achieve our aim of a gold medal and promotion.”

The fourth game saw a 7-0 victory over Romania as Bowns became the first Great Britain netminder to secure three shutouts at a World Championship since Jimmy Foster in 1938.

David Phillips was made captain on the day he became the sixth GB player to reach the 100-cap milestone, while Assistant Coach Corey Neilson was presented with his 50th cap which included 10 as a player.

Brett Perlini, Halbert and Jonathan Phillips scored three goals in four minutes at the start of the second period.

GB scored four times in the third session to record a convincing victory as Curran deflected Mosey’s shot past Zoltan Toke, while Ruopp converted a pass from Lachowicz at the backdoor on the powerplay.

Mosey touched home a loose puck in the crease also on the man advantage and Josh Waller put the gloss on the win with a one-timer from the left circle.

It meant GB needed a point in their final game against Italy to make an immediate return to the top level of world ice hockey.

Poland beat Romania 6-2 to secure their promotion earlier in the day and so it was either GB or Italy joining them in the top flight.

What a day it was! The Stanley Cup in building with the Keeper of the Cup Phil Pritchard, as well as NHL legend Lanny McDonald.

Hundreds and hundreds of people queued to get their photo with one of sport’s most famous trophies as the anticipation built for the night ahead.

A near sold-out Motorpoint Arena was rocking from face-off as 6,000 people created the best atmosphere ever created in the building, led by the awesome Barmy Army and their drums in Block 14.

In a pulsating game, GB took the lead four times as Brett Perlini and Cade Neilson scored twice, while Mike Hammond was also on target as Pete Russell’s side made an immediate return to the top flight.

It was an extra special night for Jonathan Phillips won his 116th cap on his final appearance for Great Britain to bring down the curtain on an outstanding 21-year career for the national side.

The noise that greeted Neilson’s empty-netter in the closing moments will long live in the memory of everyone present.

Russell, said: “These are a great group of guys and they show that year after year.

“We had to dig deep so many times tonight and we found a way each time when we were pegged back.

“These guys gave it their all and threw everything on the line – and it was awesome to do it in-front of so many people.

“The crowd have been unbelievable all week and they really played their part tonight in seeing us over the line.”

What a week it was! The joy as GB powered their way to victory over Italy on the final night will never be forgotten.

 

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