Top-flight ice hockey will return to the United Kingdom on 3 April, providing Team Great Britain with a boost ahead of the 2021 IIHF World Championships.
The UK’s top competition, the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL), is set to return next month with a five-week mini-season. Four clubs, from the EIHL’s ten-club pool, will return to action in the Elite Series, a competition designed to aid the preparations of the national team.
In comments provided to the Elite League, Team GB head coach hailed the return of top-flight hockey as an opportunity to judge players ahead of the World Championships.
“This series is the most important preparation the majority of our squad will have for Riga,” Russell said. “It is a huge showcase for British players, especially those who want to break into the national team. We will be watching the performances closely of every British player that is involved.”
Elite Series To Benefit Team Great Britain World Championship Preparations
Top-flight ice hockey has been on hold in the UK since March 2020, when the 2019/20 season was curtailed in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
EIHL bosses unveiled plans for a mini-season last month, just weeks after the cancellation of the 2020/21 campaign. The Elite Series, as it is now known, will feature four teams – the Coventry Blaze, Manchester Storm, Nottingham Panthers, and Sheffield Steelers – competing at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham.
For the first time in the EIHL’s history, the participating clubs took part in a draft to select British and dual-national players. Each team could protect five players from the draft, with NHL draftee Liam Kirk shielded by Sheffield.
The Nottingham Panthers drafted Ben Bowns first overall, adding Team GB’s top netminder to their roster.
Teams’ international recruitment will now begin, with Elite Series clubs entitled to sign eight foreign players.
Financial Concerns Block Ben O’Connor
In an interview with the BBC, 62-cap Team GB international Ben O’Connor announced that financial barriers had prevented him from taking part in the Elite Series.
“It’s great for the guys who are going to be taking part. It’s just not viable for my situation and my family. I’ve got two kids, a mortgage and bills to pay for. I can’t afford to [take part in the Elite Series]. I’ve withdrawn.”
“There’s going to be a few other guys who can’t afford to do it, every situation is different. In my household, my wife is still on maternity [leave]. I’ve got to do what’s best for my family. Obviously, no disrespect to the Elite Series, but our first game with GB is against Russia. I don’t care what we’re going to do, it’s going to be very difficult.”
Team GB Spared Relegation Worries
With only the top level of the World Championships taking place this summer, relegation will not occur this summer.
Britain returned to the top pool in 2018, ending 24 years outside of the world’s elite.
In 2019, Team GB captured the hearts of neutral fans in Slovakia by stunning France to stave-off relegation. Russell’s side also earned plaudits for their 6-3 defeat against the United States, with netminder Bowns making 59 saves in Kosice.
Team GB return to the ice on 22 May against Russia.