Panthers' Neilson is tailor-made for GB
IF anyone needed convincing, Nottingham Panthers' midweek Challenge Cup victory over Belfast proved one thing.
Corey Neilson is the best coach in the country – and not just because of the number of trophies he has accumulated during his time at the club.
Quite simply, when it comes to short series or one-off games, he is peerless.
And, more to the point, it is a ridiculous he is not involved with the Great Britain set-up, where the skills he has perfected with Panthers could be utilised perfectly in these short international tournaments.
After watching GB lose all their three games in Latvia last weekend, the worst thing for me was the apparent lack of direction and imagination from the bench.
Boring and predictable is certainly something that can never be levelled at a Neilson team.
It was as if head coach Tony Hand and his assistant Doug Christiansen were just happy to have done their stuff in Ja pan at the pre-qualifier in November – a tournament that dual-national Neilson, as a player at least, was disappointed to miss out on.
The lack of on-ice changes when games were being lost gave the impression they had already resigned themselves to losing and the team was set up just to battle for whatever scraps came their way.
I understand why Hand – a well-known and highly-respected figure in the hockey world – is in charge of the team.
But I am sure self-confessed hockey nerd Neilson would jump at the chance to chip in with his ideas in whatever role.
Since he has been at Panthers, first as a player under Mike Ellis then as coach, Panthers have enjoyed the most successful time in their entire history, not just the modern era.
The Elite League title might have evaded Panthers, but since arriving in Nottingham seven seasons ago, Neilson has helped them win the Challenge Cup four times and the play-off title three times.
His record in two-legged games or one-off finals since becoming head coach in 2008 is quite remarkable.
In fact, by my reckoning, the last time a Neilson-led Panthers lost such a match-up in regulation time was back in 2009, in the play-off final against Sheffield.
Even when first legs have been lost, Panthers invariably come good.
If his expertise is not utilised by head coach Hand at the world championships in April, it will be a travesty.
They certainly need him.
There were few highlights from Latvia, apart from the all-Panthers forward line plus defenceman Ben O'Connor and Belfast's Mark Garside.
And can someone tell me what Rod Sarich – the only dual-national in the line-up – brought to the team?
During the tournament in Riga, people were wondering why the French team could beat GB and also Latvia given the country's lack of success at club level.
Well, for a start, the highest French league – the Ligue Magnus – comprises 14 teams and they play each other once home and once away for a total of 26 games, plus a proper play-offs series.
That's half as many as the UK Elite League and potentially leaves plenty of free weekends for international training.
But at least this season, GB have had the series of games in Latvia and also Japan and should be better prepared than ever for the world championships in Hungary.
Panthers GM Gary Moran was full of praise for the 3,200 fans who braved the weather and beat the traffic jams to see their side beat Belfast 5-1 in the Challenge Cup in midweek.
"Our fans have been brilliant all season long," he said.
"But after the most amazing 24 hours of weather they were really put to the test.
"Apart from the pre-game ticket sales, there were more than 100 who turned up through the blizzards to pay at the door on what was a really dreadful night.
"I am so pleased they came and were rewarded with an excellent five-star performance from the players.
"And I'm also glad the snow had virtually gone by the time the game was over and it was back to springtime weather again!"
Panthers have announced they will be taking part in an international pre-season tournament in Rotterdam in August.
Belfast's Greg Stewart has been cleared to play against Panthers in the second leg of the Challenge Cup semi-final on February 26 at the Odyssey after his nine-game ban was cut to six on appeal.