26th March 2018 Stuart Armour

Why Can’t Great Britain’s Men’s Ice Hockey Team Qualify for the Winter Olympics?

The Winter Olympics in PyeongChang finished a couple of weeks ago with Great Britain coming home with a record five medals, the most won by a Winter Olympic British team competing in the games.

This year’s Winter Olympics saw a shock in ice hockey with defending champions Canada who were chasing a third consecutive gold, losing to a German team who were considered outsiders taking home the silver medal after losing out to the Olympic Athletes of Russia. Canada won bronze after beating the Czech Republic.

For the 18th consecutive Winter Olympics, Great Britain Men’s Ice Hockey team failed to qualify for the Winter Olympics. Why has the British Ice Hockey team’s failed to reach the Olympics?

Looking back in history the British Ice Hockey team enjoyed their best spell in Ice Hockey in the 1930s and 1940s. Most of the team that represented British Ice Hockey at this time were either born in Canada or trained and played in Canada.

In the 1936 Winter Olympics which were held at Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Germany. Great Britain pulled off a major upset by winning Gold. It was also a historic year for the team as they were the first team ever to win the Olympic, World and European Championship and the first team to win them in the same year.

Italy First Goal against GB in the First Period

Great Britain’s ice hockey team were unlucky not to qualify for the 2018 Winter Olympics losing out to Italy 6-2 in a winner takes all game. Great Britain’s qualifying games got off to a good start by beating the Netherlands and Serbia to set up the must win game against Italy.

Why haven’t the British team enjoyed success since? A quick comparison to the players in the 1930s and the 2018 Olympics qualification team. Most of the players in the 1930s played for teams based in North America and the 2018 team that played in the Olympic qualifiers all came from the highest league in Britain, the Elite league.

I am not suggesting that this is the main reason why Britain hasn’t qualified recently but playing in a continent where Ice Hockey is considered to be the highest standard could be a huge factor to why the team in the 1930s did so well.

Since 2003, the Elite League has been the top league in Great Britain. The league is the only professional ice hockey league in the United Kingdom and is ranked seventh overall in Europe. The League has a 14-man import rule, this means that 14 players registered out of a squad of 22 can be of non-British nationality, which means the remaining eight players must come from Britain.

This makes it hard for British players and they may not get the development needed due to the imports getting most of the shifts in a game. During the game which is played over three, 20-minute periods there is a limit of six players from each team on the ice, due to the intensity of the game players take turns on the ice, which are called shifts.

Another criticism of the Elite League which has been suggested over the years has been the financial side, with many thinking that the league is too expensive due to the collapse of several teams and a couple of teams leaving to go to lower divisions due to the financial strains of the league.

In recent years the Elite league has seen some encouragement with two new teams joining and extended the league from 10 teams to 12. With more teams rumoured to be joining, it can only be seen as a positive move.

The Elite league does have some pulling power attracting some players who have played in the National Hockey League in North America, the biggest league in the world.

During the 2012-13 season in the NHL, there was a lockout, this is a when players go on strike and do not play in the league. This saw several NHL players coming over to the elite league to play while the Dispute between the players and the league continued.

With Britain coming close to qualifying for PyeongChang maybe the team could be close to qualifying for future competition. However, with a bit more investment from the main governing body Ice Hockey UK and fewer imports allowed in the Elite league, this could lead to better development of the British player.

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