While excitement builds towards Great Britain’s World Championship campaign this week, one of the hardest working men behind the scenes is getting ready for what he describes as the ‘pinnacle’.
Ice Hockey UK’s media officer Chris Ellis is packing his bags for Slovakia to join Pete Russell’s team as the biggest international tournament in 25 years nears ever closer and Chris is like a kid on Christmas morning.
With experience of international tournament from various age groups and women’s competitions, this is the big one and he explained how the enormity of this compared to previous adventures.
“It’s the pinnacle of working for Ice Hockey UK for me and I’ve been telling people we just don’t know what to expect,” he said. “While that’s only half true, we kind of have an idea and we won’t know fully until we get there.
“What made this all real for me was I received an email from Andy Buxton about a pre-tournament meeting that all players, coaching staff and even medical staff have to go to, which is normal in previous competitions.
“I was surprised to be included in a meeting for all the media staff by IIHF, where they’ll take you through certain procedures and I’d never known that working in Divisions 1A and 1B.
“It hit home to me how big this is and I’m tremendously excited about it. To be able to see the players out there, guys I’ve known for a long time, even guys I’ve grown up with is just remarkable and you can tell how excited everyone is.”
Chris is perhaps more recognisable as part of the FreeSports Elite League live broadcasting team, alongside Aaron Murphy and Paul Adey.
His role with IHUK has meant he’s been there, seen it and done it all since first coming on board in 2011, providing support to the junior levels, before getting his first experience of a senior men’s tournament, where he wasn’t even there.
But Chris spoke of how far the sport has come in the psyche of the British people, in terms of increasing coverage over the years leading into this tournament in Slovakia.
He said: “The first tournament I did was Olympic qualifiers in Japan, where I wasn’t actually there which was in November 2012 for the Sochi games. There was no coverage of the competition at all, which shows how far we’ve come.
“I remember waking up at 5am and getting WhatsApp messages from Ian Turner and Andy French for me to post out on social media. From there, we’ve had most of the competitions covered, certainly for the men’s and as many of the other tournaments as we can.
“The interest in the national team has been growing year on year as GB have risen through the ranks. We provide content for lots of different areas and it’s been ridiculous this year, but in a really positive way.
“I understand the Daily Mail are sending someone out to cover the tournament. ESPN have been in touch, Transworld Sport, broadcasters in Russia and IIHF even want to do a feature on us, but there’s more than that.
“Journalists from North America have been in touch too and the coverage in the British press seems to be much more and it’s been great to deal with. For me, it’s great to see the sport showcased in the way I think it should.”
Chris is more than aware of how privileged a position he’s in since coming from working with BBC Radio Nottingham, covering the Nottingham Panthers in the late 90’s and latterly working with the Elite League and Sky Sports, to where he is now.
And he gave a sneaky insight into how the mood in the camp has been as the build-up and preparations head into their final stages before the competition starts for real on Saturday when GB take on Germany in their opening game.
“You hear talk about how they all get on well and it’s a great group,” he said. “You might think it’s a cliché, but it’s really not. With this GB team, you can just tell. Egos, if any, are put to one side and they all bust a gut for each other.
“I remember the relegation the last time they were in Hungary then losing the first game in Division 1B 4-0 to Croatia and look how far they’ve come.
“Pete came in and had a couple of silver medals, missing out on the final day, but then got two golds in a row which has led them to where they are now and you can’t underestimate the job Pete has done and transformed them.
“The mood’s been really positive and it’s the best preparation they’ve ever had. They had two great games against Italy and Hungary and again against Torpedo before getting some time off.
“It’s so positive right now and we’re seeing how the other teams are lining up and you can see the excitement on the players. We’re not going there to make up the numbers, nor am I going to say they’re going to aim for the quarter finals.
“They’ll be looking to create something special over there and you just wonder, like they did in that first game against Slovenia and how it gave them something to build on, if they can do the same against Germany and how it could shape the tournament.”