The Secret is Out
For those that didn’t already know, the secret is out – Great Britain isn’t quite as good as people seem to think it is on the international stage.
Today’s 4-0 loss to Croatia was the ninth straight defeat for Team GB; for some it represented a new low, as Doug Christiansen’s side went down to a side ranked ten places below them. For others, this had been coming for some time.
Great Britain are ranked 20th in the world, somehow. That puts us ahead of Japan (who beat Slovenia today), Korea, and the five other teams competing in Vilnius this week.
But in reality, we’re not a better side than Japan or Korea, we’ve just been soundly beaten by Croatia, and will come up against stiff competition in the form of pool rivals Lithuania (who will have New Jersey forward Dainius Zubrus), Romania, Poland and the Netherlands.
The ‘artificial’ ranking than put us in the top 20 in the world has only sought to inflate the idea we’re actually any good on the international stage.
People can take heart from the first period if they wish; when GB controlled much of the play. But ultimately the offence was toothless and Stephen Murphy, for so long a rock at the back, faltered. Things didn’t get any better as the game progressed, with Croatia looking more and more comfortable and netminder Mate Tomljenovic hardly tested on the way to a 33-save shut out, despite some seemingly under the illusion he was in ‘red hot’ form.
Team GB may be missing Craig Peacock, but otherwise this is essentially our best team. And Ben O’Connor aside, it looked ordinary. A roster made up largely of EIHL grinders (one or two like Dowd and Shields aside), that became increasingly frustrated as the game went on – I’m just impressed no one dropped their gloves to show ‘grit’ or whatever other stupid buzz words people like to trot out.
Reality is, nations like Croatia have been gaining on us for some time now. Their junior teams are better and it looks like their senior team is too. Forget their ranking, they were the better team today.
We can throw as many stones at the domestic game as we like – our glass houses will receive the same amount of artillery coming back the other way after all. And there we have one of the problems.
The disjointed and aimless nature of the British game has meant our national programme has essentially stood still. We are sometimes graced with the good fortune to have Stephen Murphy in form, or Rob Dowd on a hot streak, and as such we ride their coat tails to a medal, or even promotion back in to Division 1A for a brief period before reality sets in again and we’re back in 1B – as we find ourselves now.
The difference now is that Division 1B is more competitive than its ever been, and the game globally only seeks to move forward. All while we stand still.
Latvia and Slovenia are competing at the Olympics, while we stand still. Old peers like Denmark, Switzerland and even the aforementioned Koreans are now superiors. They moved on, we stood still.
I’m sure you can see a trend developing here.
British hockey as a whole is aimless. Thousands of people enjoy the domestic leagues every week, and a good chunk of those cheer for GB at the World Championships every year. But the simple honest truth is we’re going through the motions every season. The national programme is supported for as long as it doesn’t inconvenience the domestic season; that goes for the u18 and u20s as well.
While other nations honour international breaks and give their junior sides serious time together, we struggle to find more than a couple of weeks for which sides can prepare for major tournaments. Then we wonder why we fail – or worse, we forget why we got relegated last year as we get distracted by the idea of winning a medal against ‘inferior’ opponents.
As I’ve highlighted already – they’re not inferior anymore. Our snobbery has blinded us.
There are some tough questions that need asking – some of which are unavoidable, such as who ‘pays’ for the international breaks, as clubs still need to pay the rent and so forth. But equally some tough answers are needed.
Floating along as we are is not the solution. I am a firm believer a strong national team is the key to making ice hockey grow in the UK. But until we fix a goal that everyone is pulling towards, we will continue to tread water whilst everyone else over takes us.
It won’t be easy, it won’t happen over night – but for the good of the entire sport in the UK, something has to change. And it has to happen now.