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Team GB’s Bowns Ready for World Championship Test

Team GB’s Bowns Ready for World Championship Test

With a new Head Coach and some fresh blood in the line up; Team GB’s 2015 World Championship campaign begins today when they take on 2014 silver medallists Croatia.

With five games in the space of just six days, the tournament is intense and leaves little room for error – but puck stopper Ben Bowns believes Great Britain are up to the challenge.

Bowns in action for Cardiff against Nottingham (Photo Helen Brabon)

Bowns in action for Cardiff against Nottingham (Photo Helen Brabon)

“All the guys on the team know how tough it can be mentally and physically to play so much hockey in such a short period of time” Bowns told InGoal “So you start preparing for it mentally as soon as the domestic season finishes.”

Great Britain’s clash with Croatia acts as curtain raiser for this year’s Division 1 Group B tournament in Eindhoven, Netherlands – with hopes high Team GB can improve on last terms 4th place finish.

New Head Coach Pete Russell must then prepare his side for a show down with newly promoted Estonia on Tuesday, South Korea on Thursday and back-to-back games with hosts the Netherlands and Lithuania at the weekend.

Under any circumstances, a gruelling schedule.

“Everyone is fit enough to play 5 games in 6 days in a ‘one off’ tournament” Bowns says “So it’s just a case of being in the correct mindset really.”

Bowns is likely play a pivotal role for Team GB, who have been heavily reliant on goaltending in recent years. Bowns featured in both pre-tournament warm up games against Poland – who won the group last year and were promoted to Division 1 Group A – and feels the compacted schedule may help Team GB’s chances.

“It’s usually slightly easier to get into a good rhythm in these situations. We were on the ice twice a day during our training camp, and had a pre-game skate before both games against Poland. When you’re on the ice that much more, you just have to find a rhythm in your game and stick with it.”

With the majority of Britain’s domestic games played at weekend; the World Championships present other challenges for the team, ones Bowns is all to aware of.

“In terms of preparation for the tournament, you have to eat even more than usual and make sure you get loads of fluids”

Boston’s Tuukka Rask suffered with dehydration during an intense run of games with the Bruins; an incident which acted as a timely reminder of the importance of hydration to the netminding community.

“The last thing you want is to have a lack of energy, due to not eating enough, or becoming dehydrated.” Bowns says “You also have to get adequate sleep – listen to your body and do what its telling you to do!”

“Basically, if you look after yourself, don’t run yourself into the ground and have prepared mentally for the Championships; then you should be fine and don’t have to change too much else in your preparation from the norm.”

Bowns was a key member of the resurgent Cardiff Devils this season, helping the Welsh side win the Challenge Cup. But the Devils were unable to find a way past Belfast in the Elite League play-offs, going out at the quarter final stage.

With the World Championships coming at the end of the domestic season, fatigue has been an issue for players and nations at some tournaments – but the Devils post season exit afforded Bowns nearly two weeks respite prior to the games with Poland.

“I don’t think it did me any harm at all. I admit I did feel a little rusty and my puck tracking seemed a little off at the start of training camp, but after the first few sessions I felt fine.”

“Obviously playing 66 of our 68 games this year took its toll; especially because we were battling in the league right up until the final weekend of the regular season and had the Challenge Cup final a few weeks before that. The week off actually did me good – it allowed me to be fresher going into the training camp.”

Bowns (far right) celebrates with team mates in front of the Cardiff faithful (Photo Helen Brabon)

Bowns (far right) celebrates with team mates in front of the Cardiff faithful (Photo Helen Brabon)

The challenge games against Poland proved successful for Team GB, both on the ice and off it, as bumper crowds cheered on the national side in Nottingham and then Coventry – again sparking discussion over the additional benefits honouring the IIHF international breaks might bring to the national side.

Traditionally the British domestic season has continued through the breaks, with some believing the decision not to compete in other international tournaments harms Team GB’s development; though Bowns isn’t convinced additional international games would significantly aid the program.

“I honestly couldn’t tell you if it would help. Yes, it would be nice to have a few more games and weeks together as a team.” the Sheffield native said “However, that would then mean games would be crammed even closer together towards the end of the season – you’d then run a greater risk of having fatigued players, mentally and physically, by the time the World Championships come around.”

Bowns concerns about a further compacted calendar are justified given the difficulties Team GB faced during the 2013/14 season – when clubs got behind the national side’s bid to secure qualification for the Winter Olympics in Sochi. But a season that started with optimism ended in disappointment for the national side.

“We had two Olympic qualifying tournaments and then World Championships in Hungary that year – and we ended up being relegated. So I think that there needs to be a lot of thought going into any decision to participate in the international break, rather than just sticking one in the middle of the regular season. The NHL doesn’t have an international break unless it’s an Olympic year after all…”

An argument could be made that it’s about the quality of games Team GB plays, rather than quantity – especially given Bowns feelings that the current squad already has strong chemistry.

“They’re all great players, and we’ve all played with each other before at some point. Because the dressing is so tightly knit, it’s easy to just step on the ice and play with them. I have to adapt a tiny bit personally, but its not hard to do that with these guys.”

With encouraging displays against the Poles, there is a sense of optimism surrounding Team GB this year – with a wide open group, hopes of a medal are high and Pete Russell’s side may even have an outside shot at promotion if things fall their way; but for Bowns and his team mates an old mantra holds firm – one game at a time.

“I think we’ll give any team a good run for their money. We have Croatia first, so we’ll worry about them before we think about Korea. We’ll take it one game at a time and tackle each obstacle as and when it comes.”

“We have a lot of speed this year, lots of skill and loads of creativity and I believe the way Pete (Russell) has set us up to play this year is the right way; so we’ll see how we do and keep our fingers crossed that it all goes to plan.”

Success in Eindhoven would be a significant step for a program some fear had stagnated recently, with a generation of British players failing to transfer domestic success to the international stage.

But with Bowns poised to be the British #1 for years to come, and core players like Ben O’Connor and Rob Dowd entering their prime, the foundations are there for the British national side to advance – and this year’s World Championships may provide a strong indication as to how Russell and his team wish to build on them.

About The Author

Rob McGregor

A member of the InGoal Magazine family since 2014, Rob is also Media Manager for the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) in the UK and a former goaltender in Great Britain's third tier National League (NIHL).