Almost a century has passed since Great Britain won their most recent medal at the Ice Hockey World Championships, but the isle of underdogs will attempt the unthinkable in 2021.
Team GB will compete in successive editions of the IIHF World Championships for the first time since 1951. A 4-3 overtime comeback against France in the 2019 tournament secured their place for the following year before the 2020 competition was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
British Ice Hockey brought news of Pete Russell’s squad announcement earlier in April, with the head coach highlighting the combination of in-form talents and future prospects present:
“As with any Great Britain squad, the coaching staff had many difficult decisions to make concerning this year’s team.
“The squad has a good mixture of experience and fantastic young talent, but I do want to give a special mention to two players – Joe Hazeldine and Josh Waller – who just missed out.
“They are exciting prospects for the future and their day will come – and what I will say is that if anyone has to pull out, they will be on the plane.”
The global contest wasn’t the only competition shelved as a result of the coronavirus, with the 2019-20 Elite Ice Hockey League cut short.
The BBC reported on the current landscape of British ice hockey, with the 2020-21 EIHL season also cancelled due to limited government funding. A four-team ‘Elite Series’ is close to reaching its conclusion after the Nottingham Panthers became the first team to book their place in the final, awaiting either the Sheffield Steelers or the Manchester Storm in the decider of the mini-tournament.
The subdued preparation among professionals may dampen Great Britain’s chances even further in their attempt to win a maiden World Championships. Team GB can be found at odds as high as 1000/1 with most bookmakers, which is level alongside Italy—whose best result was a fourth-place finish in 1953—as the largest price of any team competing in Riga, Latvia.
FreeSports announced on Thursday that it will broadcast each of Great Britain’s Group A fixtures, with possibly more to come if Russell’s side succeeds in advancing past the opening round:
🏒 This will get you in the mood for next month, Hockey fans…
🇬🇧 We're bringing you 25 games from the 2021 IIHF World Championships, including live coverage of all 7 @TeamGBicehockey games 🙌
— FreeSports 📺 (@FreeSports_TV) April 28, 2021
At the other end of the betting odds table, according to British Gambler site, Russia will return to the World Championships as 9/4 favourites hoping to tighten their grip as the most successful team in the competition’s history.
The ‘Red Machine’ hasn’t won the tournament since 2014, but their next crown will take them to a 28th gold medal (though 22 of those were won as the Soviet Union).
Canada come closest with 26 golds to their name, and the perennial contenders will be another popular pick with bettors, having won back-to-back titles in 2015-16 before finishing as runners-up in 2017 and 2019.
Finland are the defending world champions after Jukka Jalonen guided them to a second gold under his charge in the last tournament (third gold overall), and the Lions could surprise as a dark horse as they target successive triumphs for the first time in their history.
Great Britain’s 82-year absence from the podium doesn’t bode well for Russell & Co., who would be pleasantly surprise if they were to crack the quarter-finals. However, their chances of doing so on the back of a disjointed club season look slim in a Group A lineup that also comprises Russia, Sweden, the Czech Republic, Switzerland, Slovakia, Denmark and Belarus.