Team GB, Matt Ginn, Jeff Mason, Sheffield Steelers: BIH Takeaways

Nikolaj Ehlers starred for Denmark as they defeated Team GB at Motorpoint Arena (Image: Karl Denham)
Nikolaj Ehlers starred for Denmark as they defeated Team GB at Motorpoint Arena (Image: Karl Denham)

Now that Playoff Finals Weekend is in the rearview mirror, it’s time to focus on the 2022 IIHF World Championship and offseason shenanigans in the Elite League. It was a busy week of action in British Ice Hockey circles, with the national team facing off against a pair of formidable opponents and top-flight clubs making significant personnel decisions.

With that in mind, let’s dig into the first edition of BIH Takeaways – the offseason equivalent of Elite League Takeaways. There’s a lot to discuss.

Where Will Team GB’s Goals Come from Without Liam Kirk?

Pete Russell is in a difficult spot as the World Championships swing into view: Team Great Britain isn’t producing enough offence with Liam Kirk (and Mike Hammond) unavailable through injury.

While it isn’t surprising the national team is struggling without its star player, the fact they only scored once through three hours of play against Denmark and Italy last week is concerning.

Ben Lake, Team GB and Belfast Giants (Image: Karl Denham)
Ben Lake, Team GB and Belfast Giants (Image: Karl Denham)

Team GB’s zipless attacking play was especially evident during their back-to-back against Denmark, which ended in a 10-0 aggregate loss for Russel’s squad.

Also of note: Ross Venus, Great Britain’s lone goal-scorer, won’t be travelling to Tampere this week. He’s a training camp participant; not a full-time member of the national team for the 2022 World Championship.

On Tuesday [10 May], Team GB will complete their pre-tournament preparations with a second exhibition match against Italy at Coventry’s Skydome Arena. It’s essential someone finds their scoring touch.

Penalties Killed Team GB’s Chances Against Denmark

It’s important to place this Great Britain roster in context. They will inevitably be outgunned at the World Championships: their opponents play in stronger leagues, against better players, in fresher facilities.

There’s no shame in losing to top-flight opposition, particularly in a Kirk-less year.

However, this year’s tournament needn’t be a write-off: our national team has proven its worth against elite competition and will aim to do so again this time around. It’s fine to be critical of the squad, albeit while acknowledging the scale of the challenge that faces them in Finland. With that in mind, let’s talk about penalties – because Team GB spent far too long in the box against Denmark.

It’s unsustainable for Russell’s side to hand their opponents six power play opportunities (as they did in Sunday’s 8-0 thrashing), especially when someone like

Nikolaj Ehlers, Team Denmark and Winnipeg Jets (Image: Karl Denham)
Nikolaj Ehlers, Team Denmark and Winnipeg Jets (Image: Karl Denham)

is on hand to put on a clinic in man-advantage puck manipulation.

Frustratingly, most of Team GB’s penalties versus the Danes were avoidable stick infractions. Staying out of the sin bin will be vital at the Worlds; it’s something Russell must address versus Italy next time out.

(Also: a quick word on Ehlers and Joachim Blichfeld, who were excellent in both exhibition games – especially on the power play. Defensive gap control was a major issue for Team GB against Denmark’s forward stars, it’s another area to watch in Game 1 of the tournament versus Czechia.)

Manchester Storm: Matt Ginn Appointed Head Coach

Matt Ginn’s retirement is official: after making 143 appearances for the Manchester Storm, he’s swapping the crease for the bench. The 31-year-old is in as the new head coach in Manchester, replacing now general manager Ryan Finnerty.

“First of all, I’d like to thank Jamie and Ryan for presenting me with this unbelievable opportunity to become Head Coach of the Manchester Storm,” Ginn explained. “Unfortunately, with my injury, I am unable to continue my playing career and have retired from that facet of the game.”

Ginn stepped up as an assistant coach after suffering a career-ending injury in November, shadowing Finnerty for the remainder of the season.

“I could not be more excited to get to work and help bring a fast, competitive, and successful team to the ice in Manchester,” said Ginn. “I want to assemble a roster that will be easy for our fans to get behind and reflects the city’s true grit.”

He takes charge of the Storm in a difficult moment for the club: they missed out on the playoffs last month and face an uphill battle to vault teams around them in the standings in 2022-23.

“Last season was not the type of season we wanted or enjoyed, but we are going to turn the page and build on the positives we can,” the Canadian said. “Also, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the fans for their continued support and I am pumped to help re-establish a winning culture here in Manchester.”

While it’s impossible to predict how a rookie coach will adapt to life behind the bench, time will soon tell.

Dundee Stars: Jeff Mason Appointed Head Coach-General Manager

Well, the Dundee Stars didn’t wait long to replace Omar Pacha. Jeff Mason, a long-time member of the Belfast Giants, is in as general manager-head coach for next season.

“I am extremely excited to become part of the Stars family,” Mason said of his appointment. “I am grateful to the Ward family for the opportunity they have given to me to continue the great work that has been done within the club over the past five years.

“I am already working to best prepare us for the 2022/2023 season, and I can’t wait for it to begin.”

Jeff Mason, Dundee Stars (Image: Dundee Stars)
Jeff Mason, Dundee Stars (Image: Dundee Stars)

Steve Ward, the club’s co-owner, added: “A lot of work has been done both on and off the ice over the past five years to develop the organisation and we believe Jeff is the ideal candidate to continue this. It is a very exciting time to be a Stars fan and we are excited to have our fans be part of that journey with us.”

Mason, who made 412 appearances for Belfast before spending three years as an assistant coach to Adam Keefe, faces a daunting task in Dundee. Pacha’s shoes will be difficult to fill, especially for a rookie head coach.

However, the 40-year-old is well-respected around the Elite League and was always likely to make the jump from assistant to No. 1 before long.

Sheffield Steelers: Robert Dowd Extends, John Armstrong Retires

Finally, it was a busy week for the Sheffield Steelers.

Robert Dowd will stay with the club through 2023-24, having signed a three-year contract at the start of 2021-22.

“We extended Dowdy before the 21/22 season to a three-year contract so he will still have two years remaining on that deal,” explained head coach Aaron Fox.

“We have seen how important his game is to us as a team. Dowdy gives you a high-end, top-six guy that can play all three forward positions. With 33 goals in all competitions, he’s proven again he’s got a lot of good hockey left in him and we are thrilled to have him for another two seasons”.

In other news: John Armstrong retired after making 274 appearances for Sheffield.

“John is a guy who played the game the right way,” Fox said, “a very responsible two-way player who I counted on in key situations. He’s great in the dressing room and a guy all his teammates liked. I’m happy he’s found a good situation for life after hockey. He will definitely be missed.”

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