Croatia Preview-Team Ireland 2011

Team Ireland jet to Croatia this Friday to compete in this year’s IIHF World Championship, IIHA Editor Martin Grant previews the team.

Packing sweaty ice hockey gear into the kit bag, taping those sticks, last minute preparations being made and a huge buzz of excitement around the ice hockey scene. It must be that time of year once again when The Senior Irish National Team head to the IIHF World Championship.

After a tremendous tournament last year when the team took a stunning gold medal in Luxembourg, which promoted them to Division 2, the green army must line out again but this time in Zagreb, Croatia for the 2011 IIHF World Championship Division II Group B where they will face off against Bulgaria, China, Iceland, Romania and host Croatia.

It doesn’t feel that long ago since we celebrated our historic gold medal performance in Luxembourg and the delay in greeting our team home due to mother nature’s horrific ash cloud that cancelled the team’s flights. But quick thinking from heads within the IIHA ensured a fast return via land and ferry that had players and families’ faces smiling. I’m sure every player wore their gold medal around their neck with pride during that land marathon.

But the celebrations are well and truly over as its back to the drawing board for the team. This year, some changes have been made to the management and coaching staff who hold that board.

Mr. Jim Tibbetts returns as the Head Coach of the team having guided the squad to success last year and I’m sure he has set goals for this years tournament, presumably one would be the tough task to attempt to remain in Division 2 for next years tournament. Tibbetts has years of experience in hockey outside the Irish National Team and his success with the French National Team and in the USA speaks for itself.

Assistant Coaches, Mr. Kenny Redmond and Mr. Robert Schistad, will be unable to travel to Croatia due to their own work commitments outside of ice hockey. Both have been heavily involved with the team this season and were integral to the team winning a Gold Medal last year. They’ve continued their hard work by taking over and working together with the U18 Irish National Team that played in Mexico at last months IIHF World U18 Championship. The dedication and work commitment that both Kenny and Rob provided to the team is unquestionable and the IIHA greatly appreciate their massive contribution to the development to the team. Both remain an integral part of the National Team programme and will continue to assist in developing the standard of hockey here in Ireland.

Coach Tibbett’s has called up a replacement coach to work alongside him in Croatia. Mr. Stephen Greeley, an experienced coach of Boston College in the ACHA, will now act as the Assistant Coach for the team in Croatia. Tony Griffin returns to the team as General Manager with a number of years of experience on the international scene. Mr. John Crawley remains equipment manager, a job that is taken for granted but many players would be lost if John isn’t around the rink. His years of fixing helmets, preparing dressing rooms for international stars and sharpening skates will all come in handy for the boys in green. On the medical side of the team, Ivan Grant has been named as the physiotherapist of the team. Ivan travelled to Mexico with the Irish U18’s where he was a great benefit to the team ensuring that the players were healthy. He also assisted Rob with the fitness of the team and during warm-up and warm-downs.

It will be a tough championship for Team Ireland, mainly due to the closure of the Ice Dome in Dundalk and very limited slots available in Dundonald or The Odyssey Arena in Belfast. But what ice time was available to the team was taken and the limited resources have been used effectively.

Some old faces have returned to this year’s team and some are new, bright and young players that will create the future of Irish Ice Hockey.

In between the pipes this year we have a healthy selection of three goaltenders in Scott Bickerstaff, Adam Pepper and Kevin Kelly.

On the blue line in defence we have Dean Kelly, Robert Leckey, and the return of Garrett MacNeill, Niall McEvoy, David Morrison and Ross O’Driscoll. Each of these players has worn the green jersey in the past, with five of them being part of the Luxembourg Gold Medal Team.

A mixture of old and young make up the forwards of the team. Chris Adams, Stephen Adams and Steven Balmer will line out with Ross Bickerstaff, Sean Dooley and Stephen Ewen. Dooley played his first season as an Ireland International last season where he was a vital member of the team. The former Ireland U18’s coach returned to his native Canada last year and has been playing some hockey. Ewen is no stranger to international competition and he too will be looking to score goals with Stephen Hamill and Gareth Roberts.

Young active legs are made up by the return of Craig Fay and Jason McCrainor who were also in Luxembourg. Both have played with each other in U18’s level and are a great combination together. Rian Larkin makes his Senior Team Ireland debut this year having played with the Ireland U18’s for three consecutive years and most recently in Mexico City last month where we was awarded Best Player of the Irish Team. Larkin will be looking for some ice time and will make the most out of the opportunity, definitely a player to watch out for in the future.

Last, but no means least, Mark Morrison returns to the team. This Irish veteran retired from club hockey with the Belfast Giants last season but is not hanging up his green jersey just yet. A fans favourite with Belfast and Ireland fans, Mark, or ‘the Mo Train’ as he likes to be known, has proven himself on the ice as a solid defensive forward. I think Mark will be around for more years to come. I would be surprised if he isn’t named captain after he captained a gold medal team last year.

Tony Griffin, General Manager of the team told ahead of teams flight : ‘We will be ready as we possibly can for this Championship. For sure it has not been an ideal for past year with very little ice and game practice with the closure of the Ice Dome. But we have to battle on and be ready for our first game against Bulgaria, we have a real chance against this team and we must believe it. We will take one game at a time, we all know it gets harder and harder as the games come so all focus is on Sunday only.’

Asked about the selection of the team, Griffin said: ‘We think we have good balance in the team. A lot of the guys that took gold last year are back, give or take one or two, so the boys know how to win a game of hockey. Our coaching staff is led by the one and only Jim Tibbett’s; he is like our extra man!’

The team first face off against Bulgaria this Sunday at 3.30pm local time. This will be a game that Ireland has a great chance of winning and getting off to great start. As per usual the team will have days off and will have tough training session at the rink every day.

For more information on the tournament visit and during the Championship the IIHA will cover the team’s progress throughout the week along with the latest news and provide links for webcast if there is any available.

There is an electrifying atmosphere in Irish air at the moment. Let’s all cheer on the Boys in Green. We wish them the best of luck.

All there is left to say – ‘Let The Games Begin’.

Senior Irish National Team Final Roster

Goalkeepers: Scott Bickerstaff, Adam Pepper and Kevin Kelly.

Defensemen: Dean Kelly, Robert Leckey, Garrett MacNeill, Niall McEvoy, David Morrison, Ross O’Driscoll

Forwards : Chris Adams, Stephen Adams, Steven Balmer, Ross Bickerstaff, Sean Dooley, Stephen Ewen, Craig Fay, Stephen Hamill, Rian Larkin, Jason McCrainor, Mark Morrison, Gareth Roberts

Coaching & Management: Anthony Griffin (General Manager), James Tibbetts (Head Coach), Stephen Greeley (Assistant Coach), John Crawley (Equipment Manager) Ivan Grant (Physiotherapist)

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