GREAT Britain moved one step closer to competing in the 2014 Winter Olympics following a 2-1 victory over hosts Japan in a pre-Games qualification tournament.
Britain, Olympic champions in 1936 and bronze medallists in 1924, have not qualified for the Games – to be held in Sochi, Russia, in two years’ time – since 1948.
But they progressed to the final qualification stage next February after topping Group J in Nikko, Japan, having bounced back from a penalty shots loss to South Korea in their opening game to beat Romania and Japan.
In a match billed as GB’s biggest in 76 years, Craig Peacock put them ahead halfway through the opening period on the powerplay at 9.59, and 30 seconds later Ben O’Connor maintained his record of scoring in every game in the tournament.
Shuhei Kuji grabbed a goal back for Japan at 44.01 and GB had to kill a penalty for the final 101 seconds and then survive a two-man disadvantage after the hosts pulled their netminder before celebrating the win. Britain’s goaltender Stephen Murphy saved all but one of the 22 shots he faced.
GB are likely to travel to Germany for the final qualifying tournament but they could be placed in a group being held in Denmark or Latvia depending on the outcome of other pre-qualification groups. Three teams will earn berths for Sochi through qualifying.
Coach Tony Hand said: “This is a huge moment in the history of British ice hockey. I am so proud of every one of these guys and so should everyone back home be.
“We have proved we can compete at this level and now we want to prove we can compete at a higher level.
“Every single guy played their heart out and we did this with talent and determination.
“No one should underestimate how much this means to British ice hockey. It is massive.”