Puck Plays – GB head to Japan – By Dan Perry-Plant

This week the Great British Ice Hockey team head to Japan, as they look to qualify for the 2014 winter Olympics.

This will be the first real test for GB legend and new Head Coach Tony Hand, who took over after the resignation of long-time coach Paul Thomson.

Thompson decided to leave the role so he could focus on issues surrounding his domestic team the Coventry Blaze.

GB will play its first game on Friday against Korea, followed by a sterner test on Saturday as they take on group favourites Romania, and then they will skate against hosts Japan on Sunday.

Expectation is rising for this talented team, and all eyes will be on veteran goaltender Stephen Murphy of the Belfast Giants.

Murphy has Backstopped GB and Belfast to some famous wins, and he is going to need to be in his best form to stop the offensive threats of teams such as Romania and Japan.

Ben O’Connor, who now plays for Arlen Kokshetau in Kazakhstan, is sure to be a huge player on the defence and the 2011-12 Vyschaya Liga Best Defender will be a key to any victories GB get.

He will be accompanied on the blue line by the Sheffield Steelers player Danny Meyers. Danny joined from Steelers rival the Nottingham Panthers, and he has started to impress the arena crowd with his blue collar work ethic along with his smart defensive play.

The major Offensive threat GB carry is young winger Robert Dowd. Dowd, the ex-Sheffield Steeler and Belfast Giant recently signed for Troja-Ljungby of the Hockey Allsvenskan, the second division in Sweden.

Dowd is renowned for his hard hitting and highly skilful play. He is a player you can rely on to score goals and kill penalties and if he plays to his best then GB have a chance of winning each game.

Other offense is likely to flow from in-form Sheffield Steelers’ Colin Shields, and Ashley Tait. Shields has scored two hat-tricks in his last four games and the speedy sniper will be looking to add to that tally in Japan.

Veteran winger Tait (35) has started the season in a rich vein of form, scoring eight goals and assisting on a further 13. Shields and Tait are currently the highest scoring brits in the British Elite Ice Hockey League.

A special mention should be made for 38 year old forward David Longstaff, who reaches his 100th GB cap over the three game period in Japan.

Longstaff has played professional hockey since 1989 and after a successful career at the highest level in Britain he is now captain of the Guildford Flames in England’s second tier.

Other milestones that will occur over the weekend will include 50th caps for Steelers forward Jonathan Phillips, Belfast Giants Goaltender Steven Murphy and Nottingham Panthers Forward Matthew Myers.

Initial reaction from the GB camp is one of confidence, and they will certainly be looking to hit the ground running as they start their Olympic qualification campaign.

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