BRADFORD BULLDOGS’ head coach Andy Brown is keen to play his part in helping Great Britain Under-18s fulfil their favourites’ status and bring home gold from the World Championships in Estonia.
The team flew out to Finland earlier this week for a final training camp ahead of getting their campaign underway on Sunday against the hosts in Tallinn.
Bulldogs’ coach Brown is with the team as one of two assistant coaches alongside Martin Grubb, the pair working under head coach Sean Easton.
As part of their final preparations in Helsinki, the Under-18s had two warm-up games against Finnish opposition, beating Grankulla IFK 9-3 in Malmi Arena on Wednesday before a 4-3 defeat at the hands of K-Espoo Blues.
The team had one last practice session on Friday morning before departing via ferry for Estonia, where they will also face Romania, Korea and Serbia before ending their tournament on Saturday, April 9 against Lithuania.
Having been relegated from Division 1B three years ago on the final day of the tournament in Hungary – Brown’s own son Kieran, currently playing with Leeds Knights, was part of the roster – GB are determined to secure a return at the first available opportunity, all lower level IIHF World Championship events having been cancelled since the start of the global coronavirus pandemic.
“You’ve got to be excited,” said Brown, who moved up to the Under-18s from a similar position with the Under-16s back in November 2020. “It’s my first trip away as a GB coach because we didn’t get away with the Under-16s due to Covid.
“And this is a World Championships, so there is extra anticipation, plenty of excitement and there is probably a bit more pressure on. I’m definitely looking forward to it – it’s obviously an honour to represent your country.”
Expectations are high for the GB team, who are fully aware that only a gold-medal finish will earn promotion back to where they were in 2019. Brown believes he is involved with a highly-skilled group of players who are capable of meeting those expectations.
“Selection was really difficult, it is a really strong year,” added Brown. “I’m really excited about seeing how they play. There were a lot of players who were certainly good enough to make the team and are not in, but there was a lot of talent to choose from and it was probably the most difficult selection process that I’ve ever been involved with.
“We’ve selected a strong team, one that I believe stands a really good chance of going there and getting gold. If they perform to the level that we know they can then I think we stand a very good chance of being successful.
“So we’re probably going out there as favourites, confident in our abilities but aware that all it takes is one bad game, one bad period, or somewhere down the line we switch off, we go to sleep, take a couple of bad penalties and, suddenly, you’re in a relegation battle rather than being in with a chance of a gold medal.”
The majority of Brown’s season is taken up by coaching at the city’s ice rink on Little Horton Lane, the Bulldogs’ Seniors’ team plying their trade in NIHL North Two, effectively the fourth tier of the British game.
The 44-year-old also oversees the club’s thriving junior section, which takes on kids from six-years-old upwards, with teams ranging from Under-10s through to Under-18s.
Any time Brown spends with the GB programme – whether it be a two-day training camp in Sheffield or a week-long tournament abroad – he believes it can only benefit his own club.
“Obviously, it’s not like these GB Under-18s are going to come in and play for Bradford at senior level, but the experience that I gain, I can pass on to the players at Bradford at various levels,”he added. “What I bring back from experiences and tournaments like this one can only be a good thing.
“I’ve worked with Sean at England level, I like how he coaches and I think our coaching styles complement each other well. Yes it’s a step up in coaching for me but certainly not a step beyond what I can do.
“You’re always developing as a coach, at whatever level you coach at, you are always learning, always improving, finding new things – whether that be at a youngsters beginners’ session at Bradford or coaching at GB level – there is always something that you’ll think of or you’ll see and you can take on board.
“I’ve got no aspirations to coach at a higher level, I want to stay at Bradford but working with guys like Sean progresses me as a coach. Yes, I’m learning from them but, hopefully ,I can teach them a few things as well.”
Easton is happy to have Brown on board, giving him specific responsibility for the team’s defensive unit, which includes Leeds Knights’ Archie Hazeldine.
“Andy is great,” said Easton. “He’s got good experience, a very calm head and pretty rational thinking. I’ve known Andy a long time, I’ve coached Kieran before and I’ve now coached against Kieran.
“He’s a great guy, easy to work with and he really knows his stuff. He’s calm in difficult situations, he’s got a level head on him and his man-management of players is very good.”