2014 Winter Olympics: GB ice hockey team have Sochi in sight

By Amelia Harris-LindsayBBC Sport presenter
2014 Winter Olympics: GB ice hockey team have Sochi in sight

Great Britain's men's ice hockey team are on the brink of something spectacular.

On 7 February, the team ranked 21st in the world will begin their final Winter Olympics qualification campaign in Latvia for a place at Sochi 2014.

Great Britain won the gold medal at the 1936 Winter Olympics in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, but have not appeared at the Games since 1948.

The 2014 event is one that could provide a long-awaited debut for Canadian-born Rod Sarich, after injury denied him a spot on the GB team that triumphed in the last round of qualifiers in November.

On that occasion, as the British team prepared for the trip to Japan, Sarich tore a muscle playing for club side Sheffield Steelers.external-link

"A week and a half before the team was due to take off, we were in Belfast and I happened to tweak a muscle in my leg," he told BBC Sport.

"I guess we couldn't really justify me taking up a spot and going all that way if I wasn't fit to play."

But he's recovered from far worse after suffering a potentially career-ending injury just 12 months ago, when he played on against Nottingham Panthersexternal-link despite - as was later discovered - suffering from internal bleeding.

Surgeons were forced to remove 15% of the 32-year-old's kidney to stop the injury becoming life-threatening. But, he's determined not to let anything dampen his enthusiasm for the team's trip to Riga in February.

"It was quite a disappointment not to make the Japan trip," he continued. "I hope I'll be fit and that they need me (for Latvia). It will be a great experience, so hopefully I can be a part of that."

And on being one of two Canadians playing for Team GB, Sarich added: "It's quite a privilege - I was never quite good enough to play for Team Canada but to have a chance to play for GB is fantastic."

Growing up on a farm in rural Saskatchewan in Canada, he started young on the ice, playing on a makeshift frozen surface in a barn with his brother, Cory.

"My brother plays in the NHL at the highest level for Calgary Flamesexternal-link - I've always been trying to follow in his footsteps, so we're a bit of a hockey family," he said.

Playing alongside Sarich in the squad is fellow Steelers team-mate, forward Ashley Tait. The 37-year-old is one of the longest-serving Team GB players and knows that this will be their toughest task yet.

They travel to Riga as the lowest-ranked side in a group with 11th-placed Latvia, as well as France (14th) and Kazakhstan (17th), so Tait knows his side will have to produce some top performances to progress to Sochi.

"Obviously we're ranked a lot lower than the other teams so we've really got to be at our very best to go through," said Tait.

"It's not an impossible task, but we're going to have to be very good on the day and hope we get a few bounces along the way. All the players will be going in fully prepared and will be ready for the task."

Tait has made 89 international appearances and could receive his 100th cap in Sochi if GB make it through the final qualification.

"It would mean a lot - I can only think of David Longstaff (Team GB and Guildford Flames forward) who's got 100 caps, so it would be quite an honour to be right up there next to him.

"We'll take February and then April (the World Ice Hockey Championships)external-link and see where we go from there."