Belfast Telegraph

Swindlehurst reflects on GB "miracle" after avoiding relegation at ice hockey World Championships

Paul Swindlehurst in action against Canada's Sean Couturier at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in Kosice, Slovakia (Dean Woolley/MB Media/Getty Images)
Paul Swindlehurst in action against Canada's Sean Couturier at the IIHF Ice Hockey World Championships in Kosice, Slovakia (Dean Woolley/MB Media/Getty Images)
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Belfast Giants defenceman Paul Swindlehurst has described Great Britain's 4-3 overtime win over France as a "miracle" as they avoided relegation from the IIHF World Championships.

Having not won a game in the tournament up to that point, they needed a win of any kind against the French to cause a major shock and stay in international ice hockey's top tier, but they found themselves behind the eight-ball when they fell 3-0 down.

Winger Anthony Rech opened the scoring for France 3:36 into the second period of the winner-takes-all clash, before Sacha Treille and Rech again struck twice in six seconds to extend their lead.

It looked like GB were dead and buried, and consigned to relegation back down to Division 1A for next season, but Pete Russell's side weren't done.

Goals from Robert Dowd (14.59) and Mike Hammond (18.04) - his fourth of the tournament - reduced the gap to just one at the second intermission.

With their tails up, GB went on the all-out assault to start the third period and Robert Farmer, who scored the goal that earned them promotion in Hungary a year before, struck 5.16 into the final period to force overtime.

After netminder Ben Bowns, who has been exceptional all tournament, made two fantastic saves to keep them ahead, Ben Davies got the winner 2.03 into the extra period to secure GB's safety.

It is a simply sensational achievement for Great Britain, who are statistically the worst side in the competition as the world's 22nd ranked team, and were expected not to win any games.

They were not 'supposed' to even be in the World Championships having only been promoted to Division 1A a couple of years ago, but their sensational rise saw them gain back-to-back promotions to the top level.

Having given brave performances against global powerhouses Canada, the USA and Finland, they were still favourites to be relegated from the top tier.

However, they will now do it all again when they travel to Switzerland this time next year for the 2020 tournament when they will once again mix it with the world's elite.

"I just think it's a miracle," said Swindlehurst. "1B, 1A, then we stay up... you couldn't write this. If you said this five years ago then people would laugh at you, but the guys have gone out there today and proven that GB, as a nation, have hockey players.

"It's something that's never been done before for Great Britain and might never be done ever again, to go 1B, 1A and stay up in the top division.

"Credit to the guys who played tonight, they played their hearts out. To come from three goals back to win 4-3 in overtime in a must-win game... those guys played their hearts out, all respect to them. Absolutely unbelievable."

There was a healthy Belfast Giants contingent there, with legend Colin Shields bowing out from the game on a high with the victory, while head coach Adam Keefe was also there as an assistant to Russell.

Swindlehurst didn't play in the big game against France, however he was a regular on the ice for Russell's team as they battled against NHL superstars in Kosice, Slovakia.

That being said, it didn't stop him from feeling the nerves during the final few moments of the overtime success!

"I think I sweated just as much (as those on the ice)! I don't think I've sweated as much in my entire life, I couldn't watch at some points!" he laughed.

"When Ben Davies scored that final goal, me and Joey (Lewis) jumped up and gave each other the biggest hug - I think people thought 'what's going on here?' and then the next moment people are running downstairs, going to meet the guys.

"It's going to be a fun few couple of days for the old GB squad!"

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