The Worlds did not fall into line

It has been a little under three months since the end of the B Pool World Championships and I have had some time to reflect on our tournament in Berlin as I nurse a minor injury to my bicep and shoulder. They say, ‘Get everything into the open and let the sunlight be the disinfectant’ can be a way to unburden yourself of your troubles. Also, someone once said, “There is a silver lining in everything.” Even if you have to look deep, deep down it will be there. I hope by the end of this blog I would have found said silver lining as so far one seems to have eluded me.

Post 2016 Japan Worlds the GB squad took a break due to injuries and not having enough players to form a squad so the step was taken to go on hiatus, which I must agree was the right idea and something we needed. 2017 the GB squad was back on the ice and the classroom with a new zest for life and a much needed change in mindset and body. This was the first time I saw the squad act like a team and gel together both on and off the ice. Athletes were chasing each other up for training updates and swapping ideas for off-ice training and more importantly it was working. It was spurring people on to do more and beat each other’s times on that particular piece of apparatus, thus making us fitter and stronger than any other tournaments I have been to.

So why did we, the GB Squad, fail to stay in Pool B with all this new found training and mindset? Well as anybody who plays sport and a top level will tell you, if you’re not moving forward you are essentially going backwards. The year out, even though it was much needed, put us a giant step back while the rest of Pool B carried on moving forwards. So before we even got on the ice we were at a disadvantage to all the other teams. Then you have the countries who are fully funded and paid athletes, so essentially all they do is eat, sleep and play hockey. To put it into contexts it like Basildon Athletic playing Manchester United. It’s not about if you will lose, it’s about how much you will lose by and the likes of Poland and Great Britain cannot compete against those fully funded countries.

We are completely self-funded and reliant on the generosity of the Great British public and businesses who donate by way of branded kit like hockey jerseys and team kit. A huge thank you has to go to company’s the likes of Kappa UK, Mowbray Sports, PLS Solicitors and We Are Victory Hockey to name just a few. We have had way more Social Media this time and all done by our very own Matt Woollias who at times, I bet, didn’t want to post the scores and try to be impartial so another thanks to him for everything he did. The supporters who came out to Berlin were amazing and a huge thanks to them for coming all the way from the UK to cheer us on.

We had lost every game leading up to the Poland match, which was to be expected, but it was the number of goals we lost by that was disappointing for us and it will be something to address for the next tournament. We targeted Poland knowing we had to beat them to stay in Pool B. The first period we had most of the play and pressured them into making mistakes that lead to us going a goal up on Poland. However, Poland came back at us and managed to get a cheap goal along the ice to go 1-1 a pretty soft goal if you ask me that should have been stopped. With more pressure put on Poland we got another goal making it 2-1. Before we could see out the first period we made some mistakes of our own and a great shot from the Blue line put Poland level with us. The second period I think we again had most of the pressure and it was only down to the polish net minder pulling of some incredible saves that denied us a further few goals. Going into the third period it was make or break. It was hard and a well fought period of hockey, however it would be Poland that would come out on top with a third goal in the last three minutes of play making it 3-2. This put us under a vast amount of pressure, but we needed to attack and get a goal so we could take it either into extra time or take an outright win. Well this time the chips did not fall on our side and Poland came out the victors with a 3-2 score line. This was a game we could have won and should have won. Poland were not great and a few extra players and a second net minder and we would have won I think.

At the end of the Poland game I got off the ice quite disheartened and as I got out of my sledge I heard this soft female voice call out, “Jonathon” I looked up and saw my Japanese interpreter who stayed by my side while I was in hospital after breaking my back in the 2016 Japan Worlds. She came out to Berlin to see me and it put a much needed smile on my face after such a devastating loss.

To say we were all disappointed is a great understatement, everybody was seething in the changing rooms. The mood was sombre, almost funeral like as everyone was deep in their own thoughts, then out of the other side of the room you heard someone play the song ‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon & Garfunkel and people started to smile and then after a few more other sad songs like REM or Jonny Cash’s ‘Hurt’ we were all breaking out into laughter and adding our own sad songs to the mix. Sometimes it takes a Captain to bring us all out of our funk. So hats off to Tyler #09 for that.

That night was a tough one as the whole game was on a loop in my head, however this time I was saving all of the goals and not making any mistakes. It was frustrating to say the least so my roommate and I went up to the Sauna that evening for some quiet reflection and to debrief the game. We did come up with some home truths and put it down to a few factors that didn’t go in our favour. Even though we lost every game we did come away with a lot of positives to take into the next tournament and that is where I think the silver lining is for us. Sometimes to advance further in sport you have to take a step back and if that means going into Pool C just to show the haters and doubters that we should not be there then that’s what we will do. We will work harder, better and we will get back into Pool B again very soon.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom in the GB camp. Morale has always been high as team mates throw insults at each other and talk about old tournaments where certain people missed the plane or tried to drive over the Pennines in the middle of the night as the deathly cold hand of winter sprinkles a foot or two of snow that stops them in their tracks. It was only funny because they managed to get a flight out the very next day and arrive in time for the start of that tournament. One of the rooms is turned into a football stadium, as someone brought a PS4, where a couple of people are playing FIFA. Everybody is laughing and having fun as we take the piss out of our strikers for missing an open goal. The squad would always spend meal times together as team, which helped with the bonding and made sure people were eating properly. On one occasion we were all on our way back from an Italian restaurant and Matt Woollias decided he would have ago on an Uber Scooter that was left abandon outside the restaurant. Moments later we heard an almighty crash behind us and Woollias was in a heap on the ground next to a local man whose only words in English were, “Not cool, man.” Everybody couldn’t help but laugh uncontrollably as our team mate scraped himself off the ground and apologised profoundly to the man he had just wiped out. It’s stories like these that make a team like ours as close as it is today.

We didn’t have the tournament we wanted and yes we got relegated into Pool C, but we now have new players coming through in the January training camp, which means possibly more players to switch up with. We still have the management team in place that will push us further, harder and better than last time. We have things to work on in our personal skating and puck handling. Our off ice training is getting better and we will still push each other to strive for excellence as our place within the GB Squad is never guaranteed and must be worked for every day. We still stand by our ethos where we are the Elite, we have Passion and are United in the wins, but more importantly the defeats. Before we went on the ice for each game we banged our sticks on the sides and flooring in unison, which made a heck of a racket. Each team manager said it was intimidating just listening to it, almost like the Zulu’s banging their drums behind the hill before going into battle. I don’t care what team you are, it will be intimidating and off putting. Some battles are won before they are even fought.

As a team we all look forward to November 2020 where we will play in the C Pool Worlds. Where they will be held is still uncertain, but what is certain is that we will play our hearts out as we have done before with the goal in mind of getting back into Pool B the following year where we belong. The hard work and dedication starts right here, right now!

Well I have rambled on long enough now so I will leave you with this quote from a great man:

Success is not final,

Failure is not fatal:

It is the courage to

Continue that counts.

Winston Churchill

Till next time folk…

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