LIGHTNING star Leigh Jamieson has described his week with the national ice hockey team as a ‘dream come true’ after Great Britain booked their place in the final qualifying stage for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
The 27-year-old forward from Milton Keynes was on standby for the squad preparing to fly to Japan for the weekend’s preliminary qualifying tournament against the host nation, Romania and Korea – with only the top team progressing to next year’s round.
But after another player was injured and had to withdraw from the squad, Jamieson – who had already represented Great Britain at every age level – got the nod to travel, giving him only a couple of days to prepare for the most important three games of his career.
But he would go on to play a leading role as Team GB recovered from an opening defeat to Korea to beat Romania and then Japan – in a winner takes all clash for the right to progress through to the final qualifying stage for Sochi 2014.
Britain, who were Olympic champions in 1936 and bronze medallists in 1924, last competed at the Games in 1948, meaning the showdown with Japan was billed as the team’s biggest game in 76 years. And it could not have gone any better.
Britain took the lead on a powerplay halfway through the opening period with Craig Peacock scoring, and Ben O’Connor doubled their lead just 30 seconds later with his third goal of the tournament.
Japan’s Shuhei Kuji scored early in the third period, but the hosts couldn’t find an equaliser as Britain netminder Stephen Murphy saved all but one of the 22 shots he faced.
GB, ranked 21st in the world, will now travel to Latvia in early February, hoping to complete a quite remarkable story. Standing in their way are the hosts, ranked 11th, France, ranked 14th, and 17th-ranked Kazakhstan.
Three teams will eventually earn berths for the Olympics through the qualifying events – also being held in Germany and Denmark – and will join the top nine teams in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s world rankings.
“It was a dream come true really,” said Jamieson, who scored Britain’s opening goal in their 3-0 win against Romania.
“It’s always great to score for your country and to get a goal in such an important game was very special. It helped settled the team down and we went on to get a good win.
“Despite losing 5-4 to Korea after penalty shots we weren’t that down about it because we knew we could come back. Then it was all or nothing against Japan and fortunately we did what we had to do.
“They were a very fast, strong team, but we wanted it more. The week was fantastic and to return home knowing we have made history was really great.
“We know we face a massive test in final qualifying, but hopefully I’ll keep my place in the squad and we can go to Latvia and do ourselves proud.”
Jamieson was also part of the GB team that failed to qualify for the last Winter Games in Vancouver. They fell at the first hurdle in Poland four years ago, so the Lightning ace hopes they can fulfil their potential in Latvia and go the distance this time.
“Latvia will be a very tough side, but I think we could do well against France and Kazakhstan are certainly beatable, so who knows,” said Jamieson. “Then it would just be the small matter of the USA, Canada and Russia!”
He may have been 6,000 miles away in Japan, but Jamieson was being kept well informed of how his club side were getting on in his absence.
They did well without him – winning one and losing one against Slough Jets and beating Sheffield Steeldogs on their way to third place in the English Premier League, but his return to the team will be a major boost to the Planet Ice outfit hoping to continue that strong form.
This weekend’s two matches against Manchester Phoenix and Telford Tigers seem a world away from his last game, but Jamieson is chomping at the bit to get back out in Lightning colours.
“Yeah it’s going to be a bit different but I can’t wait,” he said. “I was getting text messages out in Japan telling me how the lads were doing and they’ve done very well. It will be good to join them again.”