GB heroics is ideal platform to grow game: Keefe
Great Britain assistant coach Adam Keefe has urged ice hockey chiefs in the United Kingdom to help boost the profile of the sport after their sensational performance at the recent IIHF World Championships.
Team GB, who were overwhelming favourites to be relegated from the top tier, completed a miraculous comeback from three goals down in their final game against France to win 4-3 in overtime and avoid relegation back down to Division 1A.
That's now three incredible years for the team, who achieved improbable back-to-back promotions in 2017 and 2018 and have now maintained their place for the 2020 World Championships in Switzerland, despite being ranked 22nd in the world.
It is made even more remarkable in that only 8,000 people in the United Kingdom play the sport, compared to some of the nations that GB faced in Slovakia, such as Canada (637,000).
Keefe, who is also the head coach of the Belfast Giants, hopes that will change off the back of their success.
"This is extra special. Earning the promotion last year, I don't think anybody knew how to handle that kind of success, and now with another year to play off the success of this tournament, hopefully we can grow the profile of the sport and get some funding for the programme and for the youth programme," he said.
"That would go a long way to helping the entire programme get better, and they have a whole calendar year now to build towards next year and that's great."
While it's been a whole organisational effort to get GB to where they are now, Keefe was quick to pay tribute to the efforts of the players in Slovakia, particularly their ability to bounce back from some big defeats.
Besides Canadian-based Liam Kirk and German-based Joey Lewis, the rest of the roster all play their club hockey in the UK's Elite League, which is a long way off the standard of the NHL, from which the top sides drew most of their players.
As a result, GB shipped some heavy losses, including 8-0 and 9-0 reversals to Canada and Denmark respectively, but Keefe was delighted to see the players respond by still getting the win over the French to stay up.
"We didn't put handcuffs on them and only let them out to play and hope for the best, there's a tight bond among the group and the personalities kept things fresh going into each game," said the Canadian.
"When you're going into a tournament against the big teams like Canada, USA, Finland, there's going to be some big defeats, but they managed to keep everything light and fresh and positive.
"We went through our down times during the tournament, but it was great to see them bounce back and I think that's down to the personality of the squad in the dressing room."
• KEEFE'S Belfast Giants will find out who they will face in this season's Champions Hockey League when the draw for the group stages take place in Bratislava at 3pm UK time.