Great Britain’s men’s ice hockey team are just three games away from ending 66 years of Olympic hurt but the occasion – and size of the task still left in hand – isn’t lost on head coach Tony Hand.
Hand, the first British-raised player to be drafted by a NHL team in 1986 when he joined the Edmonton Oilers, was appointed head coach just over 13 months ago following Paul Thompson’s resignation.
Hand named his first squad in March last year with Britain maintaining their place in World Championship Division One Group A a month later before entering the pre-Olympic qualifying tournament in November.
Britain were the highest ranked outfit in their four-team group and, with only the winner advancing to the next stage, recovered from a shoot out loss to South Korea to beat Romania and hosts Japan and progress.
They now face a similar scenario but in a different position, going into the final Olympic qualifier in Riga as the lowest ranked outfit in 21st in the world with hosts Latvia 11th, France 14th and Kazakhstan 17th.
And, while aware of how difficult it will be to emerge with a place at the Sochi 2014 Olympics having last featured at St Moritz 1948, Hand insists it is times like these that he has been craving for.
“It is the biggest thing that has happened to British ice hockey in decades and regardless of what happens, win or lose, I will be proud,” said Hand – who is also the player-coach at the Manchester Phoenix.
“It would be huge [if they qualified] and the biggest moment in my career certainly. To get to go to the Olympics is what everyone strives for and it would be an absolutely fantastic achievement.
“It’s fantastic, I’m really looking forward to going to Latvia and we are going with a strong team. We were fantastic in Japan and I would love the guys to get to that next level. But I am also realistic.
“We are up against some very good countries but we will be going out there to give it our all and we’ll see what happens. I cannot stress enough how good these countries are we are playing.
“It’s a level above what we are used to but we’re well prepared and we’ll give it our best shot. Hopefully we will put on a good show and Britain can be proud of the team we’re putting out there.”
© Sportsbeat 2013