THE STAGE IS SET
When the World Championships started, we knew it may have come down to this and now there’s a huge opportunity for Great Britain in Slovakia today.
The last six games have provided a harsh lesson on life at this cutthroat level and the standard expected just to stay in it, let alone go on and win it.
But, do you know what? I’m willing to bet each and every player in the GB squad would go and do it all again if the tournament restarted from the beginning again on Tuesday, which is why today is the day for them to do something truly amazing.
Reaching the top flight was a massive achievement and Pete Russell guiding his team to Slovakia in the first place was amazing. I would argue staying here would be even bigger.
Results have been kind to us in so far as France haven’t won either which is why this situation has presented itself later this afternoon. It’s a chance to go out with a flourish and if GB leave Kosice with flights to Switzerland to be booked for next year, it would be incredible.
We always knew trying to go toe to toe with Canada, USA and Finland would go the way it did. We hoped to get something from games against Germany, Slovakia and even Denmark. It didn’t happen.
Now we take on a French side who are in the first year of a new coach, a man in Philiipe Bozon who replaced Dave Henderson, who served for 15 years. That’s the hell of a transition.
This was a team that had had hopes of bothering the top four in Group A and possibly a knockout round game. Instead, they’re scrapping for survival with the lowest ranked team with us.
Plus they played their penultimate game last night, in a 3-0 defeat to Finland. GB had the day off after taking on Slovakia on Saturday night so will be better rested.
It’s France’s two games in 24 hours schedule compared to GB’s two nights’ sleep and a light skate in the middle. There’s hope there for optimism for Britain to do something that seemed impossible just a couple of weeks ago.
Let’s not kid ourselves here though. While France haven’t bothered the knockout stages since 2014, they’ve been here since 2007 for a good reason.
They can play at this level and have been in a situation like this in the past. Three years ago in Russia, a penalty shots win over Germany gave them two early points, but the one that saved them was a 6-2 win over eventually relegated Hungary.
In 2013, an unexpected win over Russia proved to make the difference as they finished seventh in the eight-team group, which made the difference as Austria went down.
Before that, in the 2010 championships in Germany, France failed to win in any of their preliminary group games so went forward to a four-team relegation group, where the bottom two would go down.
France survived as they beat Italy and Kazakhstan, who were both relegated and were able to continue at the top level.
The bottom line is, while this represents a great chance for GB to survive, they’re coming up against a country that are well versed in save their backsides.
It’s going to be a nervous, fraught and emotional afternoon for many of us with a vested interest in this tournament and those that want to see GB stay at this level.
If the previous performances have shown us anything, Pete Russell won’t accept anything less than full effort and hard graft. It may be the final stop in an incredible adventure, but why should the story stop there?
Let’s hope we’re looking forward to a trip to Switzerland next year.
AUF WIEDERSEHEN, PETE?
His move is one that should be welcomed from the point of view of a coach being given an opportunity in a very competitive league that could lead to other bigger routes if he’s successful.
The manner of his departure from Clan is one for others to discuss, but it’s a great move for Pete and that shouldn’t be forgotten, but you have to wonder if today’s final World Championship game with France will be his final act as the national team coach?
A new chance and opportunity may require a focus where other things have to go by the way side which could mean Pete’s road as GB coach could well be coming to an end in Kosice later today.
After all, reaching the World Championships and seeing them through it could be seen as taking the team as far as they can go, which wouldn’t be an unreasonable assumption.
Plus, after a five-year stint that has yielded two silver medals and two golds, maybe it’s time for Pete to go out on a high irrespective of how today’s game with France pans out.
I’m sure there are many who would love to see him continue on, but as his big move to Germany approaches, it’s time for a clean start and a fresh break as a new challenge begins.
If this is to be Pete’s farewell from the national team, then it’s been a great five years and hope he goes to Freiburg and builds on a reputation that continues to grow.
LAST CALL FOR SHIELDS
Speaking of farewells, it wouldn’t be right to not end by acknowledging the last ever professional game for Colin Shields, who hangs his skates up for good after today’s game in France.
The 39-year-old deserves every plaudit that will come his way once the championships are finished and rightly so and since he announced his retirement, it’s been clear to see from the messages posted online just well respected he is.
Let’s hope he signs off by helping GB stay in this top division and pass the torch for next year. But at least he got to end his career by being here, not to mention winning the league and Challenge Cup one more time with Belfast Giants.
Thanks for everything, Sheds!