Giants' Murphy is urging Belfast to roar GB to glory
Belfast Giants goaltender Stephen Murphy believes that the Northern Ireland fans can play a part in pushing the Great Britain national team a step towards the top tier of world ice hockey.
The long-serving Giants favourite is relishing pulling on the GB jersey in the place he now calls home when the SSE Arena plays host to the World Championship Division 1 Group B tournament and, after spending the last eight years in Belfast, the 35-year-old knows how the home crowd can drive their team on.
GB have finished second in Group B in the last two seasons, falling just short of promotion to the Group A where teams vie for a place among the elite 16 teams who play in the main World Championship tournament.
And after finishing a single point behind South Korea in 2015 and Ukraine last year, Murphy, who missed those tournaments through injury, wants the Belfast support to help the team go one better this time around.
"Everyone is excited to be playing on home ice this year, it will be something very special," said the Dundee-born goalie, who in 16 years as an international has never played in a World Championships on home ice. "The home crowd can be very important. UK fans are very passionate.
"Players who come to this country from abroad often comment about the passion shown in the stands."
Murphy is one of three Belfast Giants players in Pete Russell's squad for games against Croatia, Estonia, Lithuania, Netherlands and favourites Japan, the others being forward Colin Shields and Mark Garside, who has been converted to defence.
They will face Croatia in the opener on Sunday (4pm) and the rest of the fixtures have been set up for GB to play in the evening to maximise the crowd.
As well as Belfast Giants fans, supporters of other Elite League clubs are expected to travel.
Coach Russell is in a healthy position with his goaltenders as Murphy will compete with Cardiff Devils' Elite League title-winning netminder Ben Bowns for the starting slot and that can only be good for the team as they aim for gold in their first home tournament for 25 years.
"We can achieve something special but we know we have five tough games," said Murphy.
"There are no easy games at this level but hopefully we can perform to set us a chance of winning gold and promotion."
GREAT BRITAIN SCHEDULE (7.30pm face-off unless stated): Sunday, April 23 v Croatia (4pm); Monday, April 24 v Estonia; Wednesday, April 26 v Lithuania; Friday, April 28 v Netherlands; Saturday, April 29 v Japan.