Manchester Phoenix coach Tony Hand led Great Britain’s men to the final qualification round for the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics this weekend.
Great Britain won two of their three matches in Japan to win the tournament, including a tense decider over the hosts 2-1 which secured their progress to the final qualifying round in Latvia next February.
Hand had previously seen his side beat Romania 3-0 and lose 5-4 on penalty shots to South Korea. The point gained from the Korea match would prove vital.
He said: “I am so, so, proud of every one of these guys and so should everyone back home.
No-one should under-estimate how much this means to British ice hockey. It is massive.
We are one step away from Sochi 2014 and now get to test ourselves against some of the world’s best hockey nations.”
Making the last qualifying round for Sochi is no mean feat given ice hockey’s low profile in Great Britain, and this represents real progress cycle-on-cycle as the men’s team fell at this stage in qualifying for the last Games in Vancouver.
However, sterner tests stand between Hand’s team and qualifying for Sochi – something no British team has done since 1948.
Great Britian – ranked 21st in the world – will play Latvia (11th), France (14th) and Kazakhstan (17th) in the final round of qualifying.
Dependent on other pre-qualifying competitions happening worldwide, Hand’s men could’ve faced trips to Germany or Denmark but will now be jetting to Riga next February.
Manchester Phoenix netminder Steve Fone has played under Hand for many years at the Altrincham Ice Dome.
He said: “It’s quite an achievement to get this far. Hopefully this will put us on the map globally and it definitely shows the world Great Britain are not pushovers. It will take us to the next level.
Realistically, it will be tough to qualify against the higher ranked teams in our group. You can never say never though, and I know the players will give it their all. I represented GB at junior level and it’s just an honour to play for your country.”
Meanwhile, Team GB’s women’s Olympic dreams are over after they failed to win their qualifying tournament in China.
They lost to the hosts and France before picking up a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands on the final day of pre-qualifying.
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