Robert Lachowicz: Great Britain ice hockey can qualify for Olympics
“When you look at it, there are only three games to get through, which can go either way on the day,” Robert Lachowicz says wryly, a sudden increase of speed in his speech as he describes the barriers standing between Great British ice hockey and a place at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
“It’s come a lot quicker than I expected,” the 22-year-old says of the qualification tournament this week in Riga, Latvia, his voice returning to its natural softly spoken thoughtful fluency, a steeliness picked up from years on the ice.
“I’m pretty excited to have the chance to be playing against teams of this quality and teams from the world division. It’ll be a great experience.”
Lachowicz’s enthusiasm for Great Britain’s golden moment is understandable.
You have to go back 65 years for the last time they appeared at the Olympics. And you have to go 77 years back to when the team, now ranked 21st in the world, left with gold medals hanging round their necks. But the history books are there to be rewritten when the team travels to the knockout qualification event that sees the winner guaranteed a place in Sochi next year.
For Lachowicz and his teammates, the three matches against hosts Latvia, France and Kazakhstan are the biggest the national side has faced for over half a century but the Nottingham Panthers player believes the pressure is on their opponents.
- Olympic mission: Robert Lachowicz hopes to help Team GB qualify for Sochi 2014
“Going into big games you can be a bit nervous and want to do your best, but I’m sure it’s a lot harder to be that team who can’t lose to a country like Great Britain,” he says.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of pressure on us as we’re very much seen as the underdogs. Even in the last tournament we played in to reach this point, I don’t think anyone expected us to get through.
“So it will be similar this time, where I don’t think anyone expects us to progress. But that role kind of suits us more than having the pressure piled on. It helps us perform better. “
The importance of making it this far cannot be underestimated for the development of the sport in these isles. All three Great Britain matches are to be broadcast on ESPN, with BBC 5Live also providing commentary, and there has been the timely announcement of increased funding, albeit $100,000, from the IOC.
And Lachowicz recognises how vital Great Britain’s performances over the next week will be for the sports future. “Being quite a minority sport in Britain it is huge for us getting into a qualification spot. Hopefully it will lift the profile of hockey in this country and get a lot more people wanting to try it out.
“When I was playing there was only ever one side per age group, now you have A teams and B teams. It’s a lot of fun once you get over the learning to skate part.”
Lachowicz has a resounding confidence in his team ahead of their qualification matches later this week. He says it is a squad that is as good as he has ever been part of and one which has a strong chance to make history and reach the Sochi Games.
“I think we can make it through. We’ve got a strong team on and off the ice – everyone in the squad gets on really well. I’m sure that cohesion helps us and we can go out there and cause a few upsets.”