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Friday, 11 January, 2002, 11:54 GMT

Looking ahead to 2006

BBC Sport Online's Stuart Hughes looks at British ice hockey at the Winter Olympics

It was British ice hockey's finest hour.

In February 1936, at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, in Germany, the Great Britain team captained by Carl Erhardt held the USA to a goalless draw after three periods of overtime to claim the Olympic gold medal.

Hitler's controversial Winter Games had already been a momentous one for Britain's ice hockey team.

Earlier, Edgar Brenchley's goal two minutes from time had condemned Canada to their first defeat in Olympic hockey history.

Needless to say, the Canadians were not amused.

They had already filed a protest after it was discovered that a large number of the British players actually lived and played hockey in Canada.

In the decades since that shock Olympic victory the fortunes of the national team have waxed and waned.

Great Britain gained a taste of life at the sport's highest level in 1993.

They won promotion to World Championship Pool A and recorded three shutouts along the way.

Their rise to the top was short-lived, however.

Team GB slipped back into Pool B the following year and currently stand 18th in the world rankings.

Great Britain's hopes of progressing to Salt Lake City were finally extinguished in the Olympic pre-qualification tournament in Gdansk two years ago.

"It's a huge task but I think we're taking steps in the right direction"
Paul Thompson on 2006

But while the national team may be spectators rather than participants in events on the ice in Utah, they have their sights firmly set on the next Winter Games in 2006.

Since the charismatic former London Knights boss Chris McSorley took over the national programme just over a year ago, Great Britain have only lost one game.

McSorley's assistant - Coventry Blaze head coach Paul Thompson - said confidence was high.

"At the World Championships in Slovenia last season we only lost out on goal difference from getting into Pool A and that means automatic Olympic qualification," he told BBC Sport Online.

Central to Great Britain's strategy under Chris McSorley is a policy of limiting the number of dual nationals on the roster, in order to give British born and bred players a chance to shine.

Thompson hoped this would pay dividends in the long term.

"We've integrated more than 40 players into the national programme over the past 18 months.

"We have to give the young lads the opportunity to show what they can do," he said.

"We've only got a handful of British-passport holding Canadians and they're not getting any younger.

"The whole idea of myself and Chris getting involved with the national programme was to prepare a team that would hopefully get us to the 2006 Olympics."

Thompson admitted that reaching Turin in 2006 would be extremely difficult - but not impossible.

"You have to have a goal and our goal is to be there," he said.

"It's a huge task but I think we're taking steps in the right direction.

"The coaching and management staff for the under 18s and under 20s are doing a terrific job and hopefully we can integrate it all into the big scheme of things.

"You can't build Rome in a day but when you look at the tiny funding we have, everyone involved in the Great Britain team is doing a terrific job."

Maybe British ice hockey can rise to the top once again.


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