Ice Hockey: Dampier realises his dream: A great new era may be dawning for Britain. Steve Pinder reports

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The Independent Online
BEFORE Great Britain left a fortnight ago for the World Championship Pool B tournament in Eindhoven, opinion as to their prospects divided into two camps.

The realists reckoned that a couple of wins and avoiding relegation back to Pool C would be the best result. A few optimists suggested that the team could get into second place and qualify for the play-offs to be held in September with a Winter Olympic place the reward.

Neither camp anticipated Britain cutting a swathe through the opposition, winning the gold medal and setting a world championship record in that three goalminders, Martin McKay, John McCrone and Scott O'Connor, each kept a blank sheet, the first time three different custodians have done so at any world championship level. O'Connor was the last, keeping out China while his team-mates scored 14 goals to take their tally to 50 in seven games with just 13 against.

Before the trip, their coach, Alex Dampier, said: 'Our aim this year is to stay in Pool B. Relegation would be a nightmare.' He must be thinking he is dreaming. Now the team not only face the prospect of a place in the Olympics, but are promoted to Pool A, where they last competed in 1962, and will face legends such as Canada, Russia and Sweden next year.

Before the tournament Dampier was criticised in some quarters for including 10 dual nationals (American and Canadian players qualified under International Ice Hockey Federation rules to play either by parentage or residential qualification) in the 23- strong squad. His argument was that the other teams did the same. His critics are likely to be muted now.

The implications for the future of the sport, already Britain's No 1 indoor sport in spectator terms, are considerable. The domestic league's Heineken sponsorship runs out this month, but the British Ice Hockey Association, already in negotiation with potential new sponsors, can now offer the carrot of a chance to be connected with a national side playing at the highest level.

It is harder to quantify the knock- on effect in increasing participation - few British players who start the sport later than their early teens make it to the top, but already Shaun Johnson, of Humberside Seahawks, David Longstaff, of Whitley Warriors, and Nicky Chinn, of Cardiff Devils, have played at international junior level and are products of the Heineken money which improved coaching at all levels. They may not feature next year, but they are a sign of the future quality of the British players.