When University of Alabama in Huntsville forward Jack Prince received the call that he made the initial roster for Great Britain, he was ecstatic because he knew he was one step closer to a dream. In our last conversation, it wasn’t yet known who all would make the final roster to represent Great Britain in the World Championship, but it was still a big honor for Prince to even be considered. Fast forward to the end of April, and Jack Prince made the roster and took home silver while representing his country in the IIHF World Championship Division I – Group B in the Netherlands.

“I kind of just had to take a moment to really just understand what was happening because it was one of my dreams,” said Prince on making the final roster. “My dreams have always been professional hockey and representing my country. It’s just something that you strive for and it took me a couple minutes to really realize what was going on, and once it hit me, it was like ‘wow.’ I hate to say wow because it’s just such a normal term nowadays, but it was just breathtaking.”

Imagine being in college, on spring break, and receiving the call that you’ll be representing your country in international play. That’s what happened with Prince. Following the call, everything started to materialize quickly.

“I found out during our spring break, so I had a week and a half to get everything finalized and in order with school,” said Prince. “Luckily, I already asked all my professors once I made the initial roster just in case. I had to move a couple of my deadlines around for school, but they were all really accepting and understanding of what was going on, so that was nice.”

Before he left, Prince spent some time with the UAH trainers to get him in even better shape before making the trip across the Atlantic. Once he arrived, he participated in an intense training camp leading up to their first pre-tournament game.

“Before I left, it was on the ice every day, working out every day with our trainer at school,” said Prince. “I left on a Sunday in the afternoon and arrived in England on Monday afternoon. I then checked in with the team, had a team meal that night and from then on, it was purely Great Britain Hockey.

Training camp began Tuesday and it was two times on the ice. Wednesday, another two times on the ice. Thursday we had a morning practice and then a game against Poland. Friday morning we had practice and then another game against Poland. Then, we traveled to the Netherlands for the tournament on Saturday. It was a fast two weeks, that’s for sure.”

For the last three years, Prince has been playing college hockey in Huntsville, Alabama. While some ice surfaces the Chargers have played on during their games have been bigger, the level and style of play was much different in Europe. Part of his experience at camp was getting used to this as well as catching up to the level that professionals were playing at.

“Everyone on the team is a professional except for me, so they’ve been around a block or two a few times in different countries,” said Prince. “Our coach focused on the main areas like our defensive zone. What was going to happen if we broke down, where were we going to go back to and such. With professionals, what I noticed was in the defensive zone, you have a few set plays off the face offs and a few things the coaches want you to do. But you’re free to do everything that you think you can do because there will be so many chances in the game, especially on the big rink, that you’re able to do what you want in the offensive zone. It was cool to see everyone be able to think for themselves on the ice.”

Before heading to the Netherlands, Team Great Britain faced off against Team Poland twice. With Prince playing in England for the first time in five years, and the first time on the men’s roster, it was an exciting experience that also caused a little bit of nervousness.

“Our first exhibition game was actually in Nottingham (where he grew up playing), and before we got ready for warm ups, we had autograph and interview sessions with the junior session kids that were doing a training camp,” said Prince. “I got to see a lot of coaches that I had when I was growing up and knew from the system I was playing in. Before anything, they kept telling me, ‘We’re expecting big things from you playing in the States for so long.’ Talk about added pressure above putting my Great Britain jersey on.”

Jack Prince QuoteThe nerves continued to build for Prince right before he hit the ice.

“Before the game, I was really nervous and a couple of the guys kept telling me that it was a normal game,” said Prince. “I get on the ice for warm ups and look around and there are about 3,000 fans there just for warm ups. I go in to shoot my first puck in warm ups and miss the puck. I shake my head and can’t believe this is happening. I just start shaking even more. I had pretty much my entire family there and I’m just shaking trying to take it all in. The game went well and we won 6-4. It’s just a memory that I’ll never forget.”

Prince didn’t mention it, but he actually opened the scoring in the first game. Once they completed the two pre-tournament games, it was off to the Netherlands to compete in the World Championship April 13th-19th. For Prince, it was an entirely new experience in meeting hockey players from all over the world and creating brotherhood with his teammates.

“It’s so cool because you get to meet so many people,” said Prince. “You create a few friends on other teams as well as bond with your own team. Half the guys on Great Britain I grew up playing against or with. Then, there’s the older guys, like Jonathan Weaver who’s 38. He was a professional when I was growing up and now I had the chance to play with him and learn from him.”

Prince played in all five games for Great Britain, registering an assist in their final game against Lithuania. He noted that he should have had an assist on the game tying goal against Croatia in their first game, but the officials must have overlooked it on accident.

“We started off great with an overtime win against Croatia,” said Prince. “They were seeded second and we were seeded fourth, so them and Korea were vying for gold before the tournament even began and no one really gave us a shot. To win in overtime really set us up on a great start for the tournament, which is all we could have asked for.”

Had the team been able to hold off Lithuania, they could have taken the gold medal away from Korea. That being said, for a team that wasn’t expected to medal, winning silver was a huge accomplishment.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Prince on winning silver. “Everyone just expected us to finish fourth or on a day finish with a bronze medal. Especially with the new team and Coach Russell being in his first year, he picked a team that’s going to build not only this year, but also for the future. He said after the tournament that he expects 75% of the team to be back next year. For us to be in a so-called rebuilding process and get silver and be above where everyone thought we were going to be is a huge deal for British ice hockey to put us on the map. Individually for our team, it was just so rewarding to see that when everyone buys into the same thing and same belief and same process, anything is possible.”

Many don’t realize that while the Group-A World Championships are currently going on that bolster some of the more known hockey countries like Canada, United States, Sweden, Russia and Finland, that there are many other tournaments out there with incredible talent. Countries like Great Britain, that currently play in Group B, are on the brink. Hockey continues to grow in these countries and it won’t be long until players from these lesser known hockey countries start making a much bigger impact.

“It’s massive and you see it every year where guys from different countries are being drafted or making their first appearance the NHL,” said Prince on the growth of hockey in non-traditional countries. “You’ve got a handful of people from France in the NHL, plus the Australian that has been drafted. You have countries from all over the world that aren’t known for hockey, but are building the process and making themselves known by getting their players out there. One of our defensemen, Ben O’Connor, took a penalty shot against Korea and it made it onto TSN. It spread on social media for days. When you look at it, division 1-A and division 1-B are kind of the same level. When you think about it, everyone is really close now. The way things are going for us, it’s looking very positive.”

Prince returned to Huntsville to finish out the semester at the close of the World Championship. Do his fellow students know they have silver medalist in hockey walking amongst them? Hopefully they do now.

 

Header image courtesy: Michael Poole