Today on Chasing Dragons, we’re delighted to speak to Team GB’s Doug Christiansen as he prepares to lead the Lions into battle for the first time as head coach at the World Championships in Vilnius, Lithuania next week.
The American was appointed as coach after GB’s relegation to Division IB last year, making the step up from assistant after two years in the role which he held alongside coaching at Belfast and Sheffield in the Elite League. I spoke to him about his time in the role, how he sees GB’s chances in Lithuania and his plans for the future.
The first thing you get from Doug when talking to him is that, as GB’s full-time national team coach, he’s very much looking forward to leading the team into battle, and is both very honest and very clear about his pride in being chosen to do so:
“It’s a great honour to be national team coach for GB. It’s something I’ve been working towards since coming to Britain, and I’m really looking forward to the challenge both in Lithuania and in building something special for GB hockey in the future.”
While this World Championships will be Doug’s first tournament as head coach, he’s spent several years involved with Great Britain, including the Olympic qualifying campaign last year, which he sees as one of the highlights of his career so far:
“Being part of the GB team for Olympic qualifying was incredible. Getting to travel with the squad to Japan & experience an exotic place and new culture was great, and then being part of GB beating the host nation in a sold out arena on national TV to get to the next stage was something I’ll remember for a long time. I’m truly proud of what we achieved and GB hockey should be, too.”
Christiansen’s first squad as head coach is notable for the amount of new blood and young British talent included for the first time-young players like Paul Swindlehurst & Sam McCluskey of Dundee, James Griffin of Coventry and Jonathan Boxill of Nottingham are all being given the chance to shine at training camp before the final squad is announced next week. For Christiansen, the promotion of the “new generation” of British talent as early as possible is a key part of GB’s progress on the international stage.
“Young players are developing much faster nowadays-with all the hard work and off-ice training they do they’re reaching their potential much quicker. It’s important that we get this young talent into the system quickly and allow it to progress-also that we do our best to find the next Ashley Taits and Jonny Weavers while the older guys are still around and can help them. All the young guys are going to play both games (v Netherlands) this weekend & they’re all competing for a place on the plane. If they earn a place, they’ll go to Lithuania”
Looking ahead to the weekend, Doug says this GB team will be one of the best-prepared in a while, and GB’s warm-up games against division rivals Netherlands is a key part of that:
“These games v the Netherlands are excellent preparation-they’re a great chance to bring together a group of guys who’ve been playing under different coaches and systems, get them working and get our plans and system battle-tested under flying bullets. But these bullets don’t count, so if we find problems we’ve got next week to work on them and fix them before we go to Lithuania.
It’s not an opportunity we’ve had over the past few seasons, and we’re happy because it’s something that we definitely knew we needed to do. It also gives people a chance to see the GB team in action before they head off.”
When it comes to the World Championships themselves, it’s very clear that Doug is going in with one objective-gold. But it’s also clear that he has already identified what he thinks is the biggest threat to GB’s chances, & that he’s not taking any team lightly despite GB being the top seed.
“GB can definitely win gold, and that’s what we’re aiming for. This is a tough group, though. Poland are definitely the biggest threat to us. They’ve played two tournaments together already this season and beaten teams like Italy and Belarus, so we know they’re going to be a very tough test. Depending on how we play GB could be anywhere from first to fourth-we need to be aware of the hosts (Lithuania) too. But we’re going in as the top seed, and we need to live up to that.”
Looking beyond next week, it’s very obvious Doug has already thought at length about where he wants to take the GB squad and how he wants to get there-on being asked about his ambitions, he goes into depth:
“We want to develop GB hockey to a higher level. Back when I first took the job, I sat down with IHUK and together we set out a detailed plan & goals for the short, medium and long term. We need to follow countries like Norway, South Korea and Switzerland, all countries who’ve seen massive development and improvement over the past few years-that’s what we want to aspire to. Most importantly we need to keep progressing up the ladder and re-evaluate and set goals every time we make a step up.”
But he is also clear on the need for focusing on long-term goals and also the graduated steps GB need to take even before they can consider jumping up to the elite international level:
“It is a process. We cannot jump to Pool A without climbing from Division 1B to 1A. We know that we have a huge task ahead of us but we are excited and ready for the challenge. Our goal is to move up and solidify ourselves in 1A with our new crop of players coming through.”
Talking to Doug you can see this is a man who’s more than ready to take on the hopes of GB hockey fans and the sport in the UK and (hopefully) carry them to new heights.
You also get the sense this is a man who not only knows what he wants for Great Britain’s hockey team, but knows what it needs from himself, his players and the governing bodies of team GB to get it. The Doug Christiansen era has begun for team GB, and it looks like it could be an exciting time ahead both for him and UK hockey fans, starting next week in Lithuania.
Finally, I’d like to take this chance to publicly thank Doug for giving his time to talk to me for Chasing Dragons, and of course the very best of luck to both him and the GB team in Lithuania next week.