By Paul Newman – MailOnline
Great Britain made domestic ice hockey history in Slovakia on Monday when they dramatically fought back from three down against France to win 4-3 in overtime and stay at the top level of the World Championships.
Ben Davies, the Welshman who plays for Guildford Flames, hit the sudden death winner in the extra period as GB defied all the odds and expectations to defeat a vastly more experienced French side in what amounted to a relegation play-off.
GB, playing at the elite level of the game for the first time in 25 years, had earned successive promotions to be in Kosice but it looked as though they were heading straight back down after losing their first six games against some of the best teams in the world.
And their last chance to pull off one of the greatest achievements in the history of the British game looked over when they crashed to a three-goal deficit against a France team who have specialised in survival during their long stay at the highest level.
But Britain showed immense character to claw it back to parity, with Sheffield defenceman Ben O’Connor brilliant in assisting on all three goals, and netminder Ben Bowns again in superlative form, before Davies broke clear to hit the winner.
‘It’s pretty surreal right now,’ said Davies. ‘We were three down and everything seemed against us but it’s not our character to give up and we stuck with it.
‘Things started going our way and the goals started to go in while Bowns was incredible. I’ve never scored a bigger goal than that and I’ll remember it forever.’
Britain made a strong start and had their chances to take the lead in a goalless first period, with Davies, Mike Hammond and the impressive Liam Kirk, making his biggest impression yet in the tournament, all missing good chances.
And they were made to pay for their profligacy when the strong French side powered to a three-goal advantage midway through the second period.
Kirk, the first English born and bred player to be drafted by an NHL club, and Davies had both had further efforts saved by France netminder Florian Hardy before Anthony Rech finally found a way through the defences of Bowns.
Britain then had their worst spell of the match and it was while O’Connor was serving a minor penalty that Florian Chakiachvili added a second on the power-play. Six seconds later the game looked over when Rech added a third straight from the face-off.
But GB coach Pete Russell, who will leave his club position at Glasgow for a head coach role in Germany after this tournament, immediately called a time-out which served to re-energise his side and they came storming back.
O’Connor is Britain’s outstanding offensive defenceman and it was his intervention and pass that set up Sheffield’s Robert Dowd for a neatly taken first goal and GB were right back in it when O’Connor again assisted Manchester’s Mike Hammond for his fourth goal of the tournament.
GB were in dreamland when Robert Farmer, the Nottingham forward who scored the dramatic late goal that earned Britain their surprise promotion in Budapest last year, tied the game with another assist by O’Connor.
That took this thriller into the extra period of three on three ice hockey and Bowns, who has made more saves in this tournament than any other goalie in World Championships history, made two more breathtaking stops before Davies settled it.
Now GB, who were immediately relegated when they were last at this level in 1994, can look forward to a second campaign at the highest level in Switzerland next year and a number of their players, not least Bowns, are likely to receive club offers from bigger leagues than Britain after announcing themselves on the world stage.