Young Bowns steps up as GB suffer

NETMINDER Ben Bowns admitted he’d taken a “massive jump” after landing his senior debut for Great Britain in their failed bid to qualify for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

Tuesday, 12th February 2013, 11:51 am

The Rotherham-born Hull Stingrays stopper was thrown in for his first senior start in yesterday’s final Group E encounter against Kazakhstan, after defeats in earlier games to hosts Latvia and France had quickly ended Britain’s dream of making it to next year’s games in Sochi, Russia.

It was certainly a baptism of fire for the 22-year-old as, with barely two minutes gone, Tony Hand’s team found themselves 2-0 down in a game they had serious hopes of winning beforehand as they looked for a timely boost ahead of April’s World Championship Division One tournament in Hungary.

It was a start that GB never recovered from. Although they came into the game more and traded chances with their opponents, four more goals followed in the second period to leave the British camp exiting the tournament on a low note in a 6-0 defeat.

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It was always going to take a mammoth effort from the GB team to even come close to qualifying for their first games since 1948, effectively punching above their weight against ‘Pool A’ nations.

A lack of preparation time for Hand and his players, compared to their better-resourced rivals, will not have helped and it can only be hoped lessons can be learned ahead of future trips.

For Bowns, while the result was an obvious disappointment, the delight at getting his first senior start was also understandable.

With injury ruling first-choice Stephen Murphy out just days before the tournament, there was hope – certainly among Hull fans – that their netminder would be given his opportunity in the opening game in Riga. But head coach Hand plumped for the experienced Stevie Lyle instead, having called him out of international retirement. It was a decision Bowns fully understood.

“I was disappointed not to get the start against Latvia,” said Bowns. “But I understood why it was done and the coaches took me aside and explained why which is all you want as a player.”

A 6-2 defeat to Latvia was followed by a 4-2 defeat to France on Friday after which – with no hope of qualification – Bowns was told he would be facing Kazakhstan.

“It was good to know early that I would be getting the start,” added Bowns. “Some people prefer not to know anything because of nerves, but it helped me prepare.

“I don’t generally have a problem with nerves – there were a few the night before, but I still managed to get a good night’s sleep and in the morning I was fine.”

Bowns was glad to get the all-important first save in early but, when his team were 2-0 down after just 130 seconds, he admits he knew he was dealing with a different class of opponent.

“It was great to get my first start and get that first senior game under your belt,” said Bowns.

“But I knew it was going to be a big step up straightaway.

“It was the same feeling I had when I made my first start for Hull this season. We played Nottingham and the pace and everything else was just another level to what I’d been used to.

“We were slow out of the gates and before you knew it we were 2-0 down. But we called a timeout and came out a lot more settled and were able to match them for the rest of that period. I’d probably like a couple of the goals back, but I made some good saves too.”

Bowns was quick to praise the help and guidance given by 33-year-old fellow netminder Lyle, a veteran of 69 games for his country.

“He’s been awesome,” said Bowns, who moved up to Hull last summer after several successful years in the English Premier League with Sheffield Steeldogs. “I think the first time I ever watched GB play Stevie was in the goal. He’s a great guy to be around and I’ve picked up a lot from him this past few days.”

After what was perhaps his team’s most disappointing performance over the four days, Hand was full of praise for them.

“This has been a big learning curve for the players,” he said. “We probably took too many penalties over the three games and that is what hurt us. We kept it at a 0-0 final period against Kazakhstan and we can take heart from that ahead of the World Championships in Hungary.”

Twitter: @philissimmo