Great Britain's Sheffield Steelers' show fight in defeat and prove gap is closing on world superpowers

The gap may still be there. But it is closing, steadily.

Sunday, 23rd May 2021, 1:27 pm
GB's Liam Kirk congratulated after scoring v Slovakia at the Olympic Sports Centre in Riga. Pic by Dean Woolley

The gulf in quality between Great Britain ice hockey and the world's highest echelon is reducing year by year - and Sheffield players are hugely influential in that change for the better.

On Sunday, Steeler Liam Kirk scored his second goal of the IIHF World Championships in an eventual 1-2 defeat at the hands of the globe's number nine ranked side, Slovakia.

Maltby's Kirk had been GB's sole scorer in Saturday's 7-1 defeat at the hands of Russia - the world's second seed.

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The one-goal defeat to Slovakia, gives fresh impetus to the notion that GB hockey is being enriched year on year, mainly due to the EIHL standards fans in the stands will be looking forward to again, post-pandemic lockdown.

Slovakia, in fairness, were the better team and dominated parts of the 60 minutes.

Like Russia they are smooth, speedy and silky one minute then big and brash the next.

But they could never shake off the Bulldog Brits and had to hang on at the end, when Sheffield pulled off the immaculate Ben Bowns in favour of an extra skater.

Ben O'Connor against Slovakia. Pic by Dean Woolley

Bowns, the iron man goaltender from Swinton, made 41 saves.

And like Jackson Whistle against Russia the night before, he made world class stops against world class opponents.

From a Sheffield sporting perspective, Steelers winger Robert Dowd grew as an offensive threat over the hour of sometimes frantic play at the Olympic Sports Centre in Riga, Latvia.

Kirk's eye for a half chance and vibrant approach play continues to put him firmly in the NHL shop window.

Steeler Davey Phillips gets stuck in, pic by Dean Woolley

Steelers Brendan Connolly and Davey Philliips take no prisoners even at the highest level, replicating their form in domestic hockey.

And Steeldog Ben O'Connor could have equalised with a shot with 18 seconds on the clock.

He has had almost no time to rid himself of rink rust after not playing in months.

But mentally he is still streets ahead and will improve his match fitness as the tournament goes on.

Slovakia's goals came from Marek Hrivik, who plays for Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod in the world's second best league, the KHL, and Robert Lantosi, who plays his hockey for Providence Bruins in the AHL.

GB return to action on Tuesday when they face Denmark (4:15pm).

Sunday's game, from an EIHL viewpoint, was completely overshadowed by the tragic death of Steelers' defenceman Marek Troncinský in his home country, the Czech Republic.