Ice Hockey: Hand happy to be backing Britain

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TONY HAND, Great Britain's all-time leading points scorer, will end his self-imposed five-year exile at the Sheffield Arena tomorrow when he spearheads Britain's efforts to return to Pool A of the World Championships.

Injury ruled the Ayr Scottish Eagles forward out of a return for the Pool B tournament in Denmark in April, when Britain picked up the silver medal. However, Hand wore the national jersey for the first time since 1994 when he agreed to join the squad on their tour of the Czech Republic in the summer as preparation. Now Hand is back in Sheffield, where he spent four years with the Steelers, in the hope of leading Britain out of the wilderness.

Standing in their way are Ukraine, Latvia and Kazakhstan, but the coach, Peter Woods, is in no doubt Hand's return - and the availability again of the Manchester Storm forward Rick Brebant - is a tremendous boost to the squad.

Woods said: "It's a big week coming up for us. It's the first opportunity we have had for a number of years to get back into Pool A and everybody is excited about the chance and opportunity. Tony has never played for me with the national team and to have him and the likes of Rick back in the programme is a big plus. They bring a wealth of experience and enthusiasm to the team."

Britain's last foray into ice hockey's front rank in 1994 was, as expected, a brief one as they lost all six games, which included those to the likes of Canada and Russia. Stephen Cooper, Andre Malo and Hand are the only survivors from that team, and for the latter in particular, it was a miserable tournament as he failed to muster a single point. However, the Edinburgh- born 32-year-old is optimistic about Britain's prospects. Hand said: "We have an excellent chance. It's going to be tough but I will be surprised if we do not go through."