Team GB: Cade Neilson Guarantees Bright Future Despite Relegation

University of Alaska-Fairbanks commit Cade Neilson starred for Team GB despite their relegation (Image: Dean Woolley)
University of Alaska-Fairbanks commit Cade Neilson starred for Team GB despite their relegation (Image: Dean Woolley)

Team Great Britain’s time in the top-flight of international hockey is over, at least for now.

Pete Russell’s side was relegated at the IIHF World Championship in Tampere, Finland on Monday [23 May], losing 5-3 in an all-or-nothing clash against Group B rivals Austria.

Great Britain’s relegation marks the end of their three-year stay amongst the sport’s juggernauts and the start of a new era for the national team.

Austria 5-3 GB. Photo credit Dean Woolley
Team GB’s stay in the top-flight was curtailed by a 5-3 loss to Austria in Tampere (Image: Dean Woolley)

It’s fair to wonder whether the squad will undergo a mini reset before taking to the ice in Division 1A next March, with veteran figures passing the baton onto the next generation in the aftermath of defeat at Nokia Arena.

But that’s only natural: Team GB’s progression over the last five years has been remarkable and there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future, starting with the team’s new top-line centre.

Cade Neilson Key to Team GB’s Bouncebackability

Russell’s decision to include a 21-year-old with zero professional experience to his name on Team GB’s roster for the World Championship was met with surprise, and consternation, in some corners of the internet.

But noise from outside didn’t impact Cade Neilson’s performances in Tampere: he was magnificent at his debut tournament, registering five points (two goals, three assists) in seven appearances. The former Aberdeen Wing was a standout for Team GB throughout the competition and lit the lamp with a highlight reel-worthy strike against Austria:

Neilson is committed to the University of Alaska-Fairbanks for 2022-23, meaning he’ll play important minutes for a top division outfit in the NCAA. He’s in the perfect spot to hone his skills and will return to Team GB as an even better forward next season.

In other words, the future is bright for Neilson. His impact at the World Championship was outstanding: he took difficult assignments in his stride while demonstrating he has the skill and physicality to excel in the professional ranks.

Just imagine the day Neilson shares a line with Liam Kirk. It’ll be worth the wait.

Cade Neilson scored Team GB's third goal of the game versus Austria (Image: Dean Woolley)
Cade Neilson scored Team GB’s third goal of the game versus Austria (Image: Dean Woolley)

(Sadly, that day won’t come in 2023. Kirk’s season with the Arizona Coyotes/Tucson Roadrunners won’t be finished in time for him to participate in Division 1A action.)

Pete Russell: ‘It’s never been like this before’

After the final buzzer sounded in Tampere, the disappointment on Pete Russell’s face was clear for all to see. His team allowed final period leads against Latvia and Austria to slip through their fingers, ultimately culminating in relegation.

“I think we did enough to win the game,” Russell said after the loss to the Austrians. “I thought we were in control most of the time. On another day, we could’ve won three games at this tournament: it’s never been like this before.

“It’s tough for the boys. I think it’s one of the best tournaments we’ve played as a team. There were a lot of missing pieces, but they put unbelievable performances in and stuck together as a team.”

Pete Russell. Photo credit: Dean Woolley
Pete Russell, Team GB and Augsburger Panther head coach (Image: Dean Woolley)

Team GB’s relegation hurts because it was preventable. They had opportunities to win in Finland, bouncing back from a horrible run of pre-tournament exhibitions versus Denmark and Italy, but couldn’t finish the job.

Spending so much time on the penalty kill hurt Great Britain’s chances, as did Ben Bowns’ .859 save percentage and the squad’s ineffectiveness on the power play. Their effort was faultless, but it wasn’t enough this time around.

Jonathan Phillips: ‘We’ll fight hard to get back in’

Ultimately, Team GB were left to rue four golden opportunities they squandered while 2-0 ahead against Austria. If not for an excellent performance by netminder Bernhard Starkbaum, the outcome would’ve been different.

But that’s of no consolation to captain Jonathan Phillips, who made a record-breaking 111th appearance for Team GB on Monday.

“We’ve been on the other end of this and we know how that feels,” he said, referencing previous triumphs over France and Hungary. “But to twice be two goals up and lose means we are pretty gutted right now. The experience we’ve gained is huge and this level is so hard to get into, so this will sting all summer. I’m lost for words, but we’ll fight hard to get back in.”

Jonathan Phillips earned his record-breaking 111th cap in Team GB's loss to Austria (Image: Dean Woolley)
Jonathan Phillips earned his record-breaking 111th cap in Team GB’s loss to Austria (Image: Dean Woolley)

Team GB’s disappointment is encouraging, as paradoxical as that sounds. Russell has built a national team worthy of playing at the highest level and his players are determined to rebound at the earliest opportunity.

In other words, if Great Britain didn’t deserve to be in the top-flight, being relegated wouldn’t have stung so badly.

That’s why I’m optimistic about the future and know they’ll bounce back next year. Believe.

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