This Friday afternoon at around 2 o’clock, the U18 Irish National Team take off from Dublin Airport and start a long journey to Turkey. Their final destination will be Erzurum in the northeast of the country. They will be keeping themselves warm with several layers of clothes and jackets as they won’t be too far from countries such as Armenia, Georgia and Russia. Within Erzurum, they will spend the majority of their time in the newly built GSIM Ice Arena. It is here where they will compete in the IIHF World U18 Championship Division III B. It is here where an U18 Irish National Team will compete in the IIHF World Championship for the first time since 1999.
That’s right it has been ten years since Ireland was last represented internationally in an IIHF competition by a U18 squad. However, a lot has changed in that ten year period with the only ice rink in the south of Ireland closing in Phibsborough, Dublin. This was followed by the opening of the first Olympic sized ice rink in the south of Ireland opening in Dundalk, Louth. During that period ice hockey in the north of Ireland thrived when the only professional Ice Hockey team on the island was formed in Belfast, Antrim. They currently sit second in the Elite Ice Hockey League. In this period, we have also witnessed the founding of the Irish Ice Hockey League and the IIHL Recreational Division (formerly the IIHL Development Division). It is here where the majority of players have practiced there skills over the past season and it will stand testament to them in Turkey.
The squad will be coached by top Dundalk Bulls player, Sean Dooley. While former Dundalk Bulls captain and current Head Coach, Kenny Redmond, will assist him. Mick Cummins of the Kilkenny City Storm will act as the Team Manager and he has been preparing everything for the squad in the lead up to Friday. Jon Crawley, Equipment Manager of the Senior Irish National Team, will also travel with the team and ensure that everyone’s gear is in tip top shape for the tough games they will endure. He will also ensure the dressing room is a place where professional players would feel at home. He is the most professional individual within the Irish National Team set-up and a huge asset. The squad has been preparing intensely over the last month with friendly games against the Flyers I.H.C., Dublin Wolves, Hawks B and Senior Irish Team.
The squad will play five games in Turkey. First they will play the other three teams competing in the Championships; Bulgaria, Iceland and Turkey. This will be a round robin format followed by a playoff situation for the Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and promotion to the IIHF World U18 Championship Division II. The tournament starts on Monday 9th March at 3:30 pm (local time) when Bulgaria face Iceland. This will be followed by Turkey v Ireland at 7:00 pm. The following evening the squad will play Iceland at 3:30 pm. They will then have a day off before their next game on Thursday 12th March at 3:30 pm against Bulgaria. It will be on this day that they will learn their fate and learn who they will face the following evening. From there a win will only do in order to claim Gold or Silver on Sunday 15th March at 5:00 pm.
Mick Cummins had this to say:
“I just want to thank all the players for their commitment. The staff for all they have put into this program. I would also like to thank the IIHA Executive Committee for everything they have done for this team. In particular, Mick Higgins who has done so much for this young team and imparted his wisdom and experience. The parents too deserve a special mention as they have been nothing but supportive especially in getting the players to the rink on those early Sunday mornings! In particular, Jim Pepper for the organising he has done. I’d also like to say best of luck to all of the players. We look forward to an exciting trip to a part of the world where we can play the sport we all enjoy.”
Everybody here in Ireland wishes the team nothing but the best of luck and we are certain they will do everyone proud. The progress of the team can be followed here on www.iiha.org and also on www.iihf.com.
The U18 Irish National Team:
Scott Bickerstaff (Belfast Giants)
Adam Pepper (Dundalk Bulls)
Dale Campbell (Belfast City Bruins)
James McCulloch (Belfast Giants)
Stephen McEntee (Dundalk Bulls)
Niall McEvoy (Flyers I.H.C.)
Aidan Morris (Dundalk Bulls)
Ciaran Mundow (Dundalk Bulls)
Jack Murphie (Belfast Giants)
Adam Patience (Belfast Giants)
Gregor Balmer (Belfast Giants)
Stephen Balmer (Hawks)
Philip Catherwood (Belfast Giants)
Craig Fay (Kilkenny City Storm)
Mark Goodall (Dundalk Bulls)
Colin Grimason (Belfast Giants)
Matthew Large (Belfast Giants)
Rian Larkin (Dundalk Bulls)
Jason McCrainor (Belfast Giants)
Jonathan Stewardson (Belfast Giants)
U18 Irish National Team Staff:
Michael Cummins (General Manager)
Sean Dooley (Head Coach)
Kenneth Redmond (Assistant Coach)
John Crawley (Equipment Manager)