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  1. ITV Report

Team GB earn gold and promotion to world’s top flight

Team GB have surpassed expectations, winning gold in Hungary. Credit: Dean Woolley

Team GB’s ice hockey team, which counts four Belfast Giants among the players and backroom staff, have won historic gold to secure promotion to the world’s top flight.

Led by head coach Peter Russell, the team were playing in Division 1B just a year ago.

But gold medals when Belfast played host to the IIHF championships last April saw them make the jump to Division 1A.

That pitted them against stiff competition in Budapest, Hungary this time around.

And, although hopes were high that the team could continue to build on their success, GB have indeed gone on to stun their opponents and once again take gold.

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This season saw Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe join the coaching team as an assistant, alongside established assistant and now former Nottingham Panthers coach Corey Neilson.

Keefer joins Giants forward Colin Shields – the all-time leading scorer for both his club and GB – in adding something of a Belfast connection to the international side.

Giants equipment manager Jason ‘Taff’ Ellery is also a veteran with Team GB in his backroom role, while this season saw netminder also Jackson Whistle called up for the first time.

Colin Shields is the all-time leading scorer for both the Belfast Giants and Team GB, after breaking Tony Hand's international record during the Division 1B championships last April. Credit: Dean Woolley

GB, as the lowest ranked side in Division 1A, got their optimistic bid for more gold off to a strong start with a 3-1 win over Slovakia.

While there was a bump in the road in the form of a 6-1 defeat at the hands of Kazakhstan, they were back on track against Poland a day later to take a 5-3 win.

Beating Italy 4-3 on Friday paved the way for the dream to become a reality.

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Team GB - who are captained by the Sheffield Steelers' Jonathan Phillips - headed into their final game against hosts Hungary knowing they only needed a point to take the coveted gold medal.

It proved to be up-hill work though, with GB going 2-0 down and leaving it late to get back in the game.

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Robert Dowd’s goal to cut the deficit came with less than five minutes to play in the third period, reigniting the hopes of the Barmy Army.

Some big saves from netminder Ben Bowns, who plays his club hockey with the Cardiff Devils, proved crucial in denying Hungary a way to extend their tenuous lead.

Then, for a truly nail-biting finish, Robert Farmer found the net with the equaliser with just 15.8 seconds to spare.

It was a rubbish goal, but I just don't care. I cannot put into words what I am feeling right now.

We never doubted ourselves and we dug deep to get the most breathtaking victory of my career.

– Robert Farmer, Team GB

GB held out for the 2-2 draw in regulation, which was enough for gold and promotion, before going on to take the win over Hungary in a penalty shootout to really add the shine on their success.

Team GB has not featured in the world’s elite division since 1994.

Next year will now see them take on the likes of Canada, Russia and Sweden in Slovakia.

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Our team work rate was immense every single night.

They dug deep to provide GB with one of our greatest ever moments.

– Pete Russell, GB Head Coach

Head coach Pete Russell said: “We dared to dream and we did it. I just cannot believe it.

“This team is very special and what we have pulled off is absolutely unbelievable.

“I am so proud of every single one of them and we will now play the best teams in the world next year.”

Team GB celebrate on the ice in Budapest after winning gold. Credit: Dean Woolley