Great Britain will open their 2021 World Championship campaign when they take on Russia at the Olympic Sport Centre in Riga, but it isn’t the first time they’ve met them at this level.
Of course, we all know, prior to 2019, GB hadn’t been in the top flight since 1994 when Alex Dampier took his team to Bolzano in Italy for a crack at the world’s elite.
They knew they would be in for a tough spell when they arrived, especially when their opening game was against – you guessed it – Russia, a game the Brits ended up on the wrong end of a 12-3 scoreline.
After two straight promotions, Dampier’s men were about to find out the hard way about life in the top flight, with the Russians, who had won gold the year before, about to show them.
“For some of my players, it was something of a culture shock for them as they’d never come up against this level of hockey,” he told British Ice Hockey in 2019.
“Individually, they’d see imports coming over, but come up against a team of 18-20 of them. It’s a daunting task to shut them down when they play well together.”
That game with Russia 27 years ago remains their record winning score and will be heavy favourites again when they come together in Riga.
They set the tone in the early stages when Vyacheslav Bezukladnikov stuck in Sergei Shendelev’s rebound to open the scoring then Igor Fedulov added a second with a shot from close range.
Ilya Byakin’s big shot from the face off circle flew past GB goalie John McCrone to make it 3-0 with Terry Kurtenbach getting one back for the Brits with a sweeping low shot.
Three more found their way past the former Fife Flyers netminder as the Russians exerted their dominance further.
Andrei Kovalenko forced the puck in after McCrone made an initial save to add a fourth then Valeri Bure had time and space to pick up behind the GB, move forward and backhand in at McCrone’s near post.
Then Sergei Berezin’s low wrist shot notched up the sixth for Russia, leaving them comfortably ahead. And that was only the first period.
Viktor Tikhonov’s men only added two more in the second period, but their superiority told as Shendelev bundled in from close range then Igor Ulanov’s powerful blue line shot found its way into the net via a deflection.
Valeri Kamensky and Byakin combined nicely for Russia’s ninth early in the third, but there was a minute when GB got themselves a couple of goals to narrow the gap, albeit slightly.
Their second of the game came from Patrick Scott, sweeping in at the back post after Terry Kurtenbach battled in the centre to find his team-mate loitering with intent.
Then Kevin Conway, uncle of current squad member Brett Perlini, scored with a good finish, travelling down the right, with Rick Fera providing support, which leads to the former swiping in from close range for his second for GB.
Normal service resumed as Russia piled on three more, courtesy of Eduard Gorbachev, Alexei Yashin then Bure, with another simple finish in the dying seconds to complete the scoring.
Looking back at the game with us, Dampier was blown away at seeing that level of quality at close quarters.
“I had a feeling we’d probably get beat up in the first game against Russia and I hoped if we could hang on for half the game then run out of steam,” he added. “We weren’t ready for that type of game, the speed and the physicality.
“After a certain point, we were just chasing them around. Skill wise and talent wise, we had enough to handle them, but the preparation side badly let us down.
“Motivating them in the national team was never an issue, especially in this run of games. If anything it was more of an issue bringing them down because they were so hyped up to win.”
It may be a game that leaves Dampier break out in a cold sweat, but you can be sure, Adam Keefe and Corey Neilson will be ready for the Russians in Riga.