By Phil Harrison – Yorkshire Post
But over the past seven days in Nottingham, Great Britain managed to do that. And then some.
The fairytale ending that everyone connected with the national team wanted for captain Jonathan Phillips was delivered, the Sheffield Steelers’ skipper bowing out of his international career on the ultimate high of leading his team back to the elite group of powerhouse hockey nations such as Canada, Sweden and Finland.
Five games, five wins. The only blemish – if it could be called that – was not putting Poland away in 60 minutes on the second day of the Division 1A tournament at the Motorpoint Arena.
But they got the job done in overtime, the same as they got the job done overall – the party atmosphere that followed Friday night’s deserved 5-3 win over Italy a stark contrast to the tears that were shed when they came down from the top pool after three years just under 12 months ago in Finland.
With Poland having taken care of business earlier in the day against Romania – as expected – it meant the hosts and their Italian opponents went into the final game knowing only one of them would be returning at the first attempt.
Home ice is clearly an advantage at such events but, by the same token, it can also bring with it added pressures, greater expectations.
GB had dealt with that situation well all week but, with everything on the line it was always going to be the toughest examination of their top-tier credentials so far.
The chanting from the sellout home crowd started before the first puck was dropped and it hardly relented all night.
The crowd got their reward just over five minutes in when the hosts went on the power play for the first time following a hooking call on Italy’s Phil Pietroniro.
The man advantage was only 13 seconds old when Mike Hammong took the puck from Evan Mosey and picked out Brett Perlini to poke it home at the back post.
Johnny Curran almost doubled the lead when firing from the right circle following a break by Josh Waller but the next goal came at the other end.
A delayed penalty call gave Italy the extra skater and they used it well, creating space for captain Thomas Larkin to fire through traffic from centre ice just inside the blue line, his effort taking at least one deflection on its way past Ben Bowns and into the net at 11.21.
Ben O’Connor and then Mike Hammond saw shots blocked shortly after as GB tried to hit back quickly when Liam Kirk showed his agility to drive behind the back of the Italy net.
It wasn’t too long into the second period, however, before the GB crowd were on their feet again, only 59 seconds having elapsed before Cade Neilson deceived Fazio by looking to pass across the front of net before steering the puck through the Italian netminder to make it 2-1.
But the Italians refused to go away and were level again just over three minutes later, Alex Petan driving the puck through Bowns from 10 yards out as he fell to the ice off-balance at 24.34.
The scoring pattern continued for the rest of the period, but it was a special goal which put the hosts ahead for a third time when Hammond received the puck at the bottom of the left circle from Ollie Betteridge before proceeding to deceive Fazio by sending him the wrong way and backhanding home into the exposed net from a tight angle to make it 3-2 at 28.43.
But, like a bad smell, Italy came back once more, Daniel Perli showing great composure to fire past Bowns’s left shoulder to drag his team level for a third time at 34.29.
It seemed as if GB were simply unable to press home their advantage any further when forging ahead each time, something they did for a fourth time when – on a delayed penalty – Kirk found Hammond in the left circle again and, in an almost carbon copy of the opening goal, he picked our Perlin at the back post to tap home again at 35.57.
Now the challenge was building on that lead and making it tougher for their opponents to get back in the game.
But they couldn’t pull clear, although they were able to keep the Italians at bay, with Bowns hardly tested at all during the third period.
Mike Keenan’s team huffed and puffed but failed to create any meaningful clear-cut chances.
In the end, the only goal in the final 20 minutes came at the other end, good hassling by Kirk turning the puck over behind the Italy goal, before he laid it back into the path of Neilson who, with Fazio having been pulled with over two minutes remaining, stroked it home to finally give GB the two-goal cushion they had craved all night.
It was a cushion they were not going to let go of.