GB Strikes Gold in Inline Worlds

Pool A Promotion for British Men

On Saturday 25th June 2011 in Pardubice, Czech Republic, the Great Britain Inline Hockey team achieved history by winning the gold medal in Pool B of the International Ice Hockey Federation's Inline World Championships, gaining promotion to Pool A for next year's tournament as the 8 th ranked nation in the world.

GB defeated Hungary 3-2 in the final to win the tournament for the third time in their history, though a change in the tournament rules this year finally allowed GB to move up to Pool A.

Coached by British inline hockey legend Andrew Sillitoe, the team led by a star turn from goaltender James Tanner, voted MVP of Pool B, and top scoring forward John Dolan remained unbeaten through the annual weeklong event, comfortably defeating all their opponents with a strong display of teamwork and intense effort that started from an autumn training camp.

Great Britain has come a long way in inline hockey since first competing in the World Championships in 1998 where the team lost every game and was relegated from the tournament for two years. Undeterred from this, the team returned with a plan to develop young players and through the coaching of first former GB Ice Hockey goalie Mark Cavallin, former Manchester Storm forward Nick Crawley and now through Sillitoe. GB returned to the International scene in 2001 under Cavallin where they improved their ranking in the tournament. The team continued their success over the years winning a gold medal in 2004 and 2006 and silver in 2008 and 2009 but after a disappointing 2010 out of the medals, the team returned with a hunger and with generous sponsorship from International recruitment specialists SThree mapped out a plan that saw training for the tournament begin months earlier than usual, regular team training sessions through the year and make the most of up to date personal training programmes from a professional fitness consultant in Peter Dale.

"My goal last year was to change the mindset of the players,” admits coach Sillitoe on the difficulties of a fifth place finish in 2010, where they were eliminated in the quarterfinals from the medal mix by Australia, a team beaten twice in 2011. “I truly believe that with belief and confidence nothing is impossible. We have tremendous skill, the opportunity was mainly psychological. We needed to move from competing with teams to becoming a winning team" Said the Head Coach.

This year GB laid down a marker early with a 6-1 win against the Antipodeans in the first game of the group stage. More impressively, tournament favorites Austria were humbled 7-3 in the second game before GB closed the group stage on top with a 7-0 thrashing of South Africa.

The success continued with with 6-0 win over South Africa before meeting Argentina in the Quarter Final where they gained an unbelievable 12-0 win. In the Semi Final GB faced Australia for the second time, however there was no revenge for the Aussies, they simply couldn't match the speed, strength and skill of GB and the Britons went though to the Pool B Final with an 11-3 victory.

In the final GB were up against a recent nemesis in Hungary, who themselves had knocked the Austrians out in their semi final. In the televised final, it was a great start for Great Britain who dominated on the floor and scored three times. In the sixth minute, Jack Clarkson shot a rebound into the open net and Nathan Finney made it two in the 11th minute with a great individual effort.
Kurt Waller added power-play goal four minutes later. Late in the first half, the Hungarians scored twice to cut the difference to one. Gergely Borbars and then four minutes later David Szappanos brought his team right back into it before the end of the half.

The second half saw a tight struggle with chances both ends, however Tanner was stellar with 27 saves in the British net. At the final buzzer, the realization that GB had joined the elite was welcomed with massive celebration.

"For me, it is a dream come true” admitted Tanner, “I have been waiting for this for seven years.”

"At 3-0 up, some of the guys maybe thought our lead was going to grow as it did in previous games, but you can't afford to be complacent in the final. It is very emotional for us.”

“We have worked so hard,” admits Sillitoe, “We still have a young team, the average age is 23, it is great to see the young players from the youth development programme now competing for their country 10 years on.”

Next year will be a challenge. The team that finishes last in Pool A will be relegated back to Pool B. Sillitoe's task is to ensure that isn't the British team who will be looking to finish above Pool A's weakest teams, Slovakia, Slovenia and hosts Germany. “Our ultimate goal for next year is to stay in the A Pool, as we will be playing against professional players and we are an amateur team, it won't be easy.”

Preparations will begin in October with the first training camp.

David Shepherd