International Feature – GB head to Latvia with Olympic dream

DURHAM, UK – Great Britain will be making their final preparations for Olympic qualifying when they play an Import Select side on Tuesday evening at Ice Sheffield before Tony Hand’s men fly out to Latvia to take on the host nation, France and Kazakhstan in a round robin tournament that will see the winning nation qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympic in Sochi Russia next February.

GB coach Tony Hand has named an extremely strong squad of players including the likes of dual national Rod Sarich and a number of talented forwards such as Colin Shields, Rob Dowd, Craig Peacock and David Clarke who are currently in fine form.

Britain have been dealt a blow though with the news that first choice netminder Stephen Murphy cannot travel to the tournament due to long term injury. The experienced Basingstoke Bison goalie Stevie Lyle has taken Murphy’s place in the squad and Coach Tony Hand will have to choose whether to start veteran Lyle or the upcoming youngster Ben Bowns of the Hull Stingrays in nets for the opening game of the tournament against tournament favourites Latvia.

Blue liner Jonathan Weaver has also had to pull out of the travelling party which has meant that his club team mate Stevie Lee of the Nottingham Panthers has stepped up from the reserve list to the full squad to cover Weaver’s absence.

Great Britain head into the championships with a great number of offensive options as 13 forwards have been included in the squad. Robert Dowd who was Player of the Tournament in the World Championships in Slovenia last April is currently enjoying great success in Sweden and if the Billingham born forward can replicate his club form in the international arena Dowd could well cause numerous problems for all the other nations in Latvia.

Another key player in the GB roster is defenceman Ben O’Connor who starred in the first round of Olympic qualifying in Japan where he was Britain’s overall top point’s scorer even though he played on the blue line. O’Connor currently plays his hockey in Kazakhstan and his game has improved significantly since he made the decision to switch to the extremely tough Kazak league.

Britain’s opening game of the championships takes place on Thursday evening in Riga against hosts Latvia before GB face France the following afternoon. All sides have a rest day on Saturday prior to the final round of games that are played on Sunday. GB may well go into the tournament as the lowest ranked nation in the group however Tony Hand’s side could well surprise a side or two onc they get out on the ice in Riga.

GB Squad

Netminders –Stevie Lyle (Basingstoke Bison) Ben Bowns (Hull Stingrays)

Defence – Stevie Lee (Nottingham Panthers) Danny Meyers, Mark Thomas, Rod Sarich (Sheffield Steelers) Mark Richardson (Cardiff Devils) David Philips (Belfast Giants) Ben O’Connor (Arlan Kokshetau, Kazakhstan)

Forwards – David Clarke, Matt Myers, Robert Lachowicz (Nottingham Panthers) Robert Dowd (Troja-Ljunby) Robert Falmer (Braehead Clan) Mark Garside, Craig Peacock, Colin Shields (Belfast Giants) Jason Hewitt, Ashley Tait, Jonathan Philips (Sheffield Steelers) Phil Hill (Cardiff Devils) Greg Owen (Basingstoke Bison)

Contact the author – chris.mackenzie@prohockeynews.com

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