For the third time in his young hockey career, Liam Steele has been selected to represent Great Britain on the international stage. For the second time, he’ll actually get to do it when he plays in December’s U20 IIHF World Championship.
His crew will face Lithuania, Croatia, Romania, Spain, and the Netherlands in the six-team Division II, Group A competition that runs Dec. 11-17 in Kaunas, Lithuania.
“There’s this one memory you have that doesn’t go away, and that’s standing on the blueline after the game and getting to absolutely scream your national anthem,” the 18-year-old defenceman said. “You feel so much pride singing God Save the Queen, or I guess it’s God Save the King now.
“It’s such an honour.”
The 2022 tournament was held in December of 2021, with Great Britain finishing third in a field of six teams. Italy and South Korea finished above them, earning promotions to Division I, Group B.
Croatia and the Netherlands replace them this year, joined by holdovers Spain, Lithuania and Romania.
“Spain has hockey, and they’re pretty good too,” Steele said. “Romania gave us a good, physical game last time, so that should be interesting, and hosts (Lithuania), I haven’t played them before.”
The teenager has bronze and silver medals from previous international outings.
“We haven’t gotten gold yet, but we’re looking for it this time,” he said.
The first time Steele was selected for international action, in 2020, COVID got in the way. After going through tryouts he waited weeks for an email from the team.
“The first time I was selected there was a bit of disbelief and shock,” he said. “You’re thinking that playing for your country would be such an honour but you never think you’re good enough to do it, and then you get that email.
“Even this year, there are so many talented, skilled players and it’s a tough tryout process. I still didn’t know if I was going to make it or not.”
The six-foot-four blueliner said people would be surprised at the calibre of hockey in Great Britain, and he called it a shame that it doesn’t have the reputation other nations enjoy. There is a pro league, the Elite Ice Hockey League, which has become home to many a former National Hockey Leaguer.
“You’d be surprised. The men’s team in Great Britain was in the same division as Canada and the United States for a while,” he said. “Now they’re one division below, trying to get back up there.”
Steele was born in Canada and lived in the Toronto area until he was nine. His family moved to the UK and a very small countryside town about an hour south of London called Cobham. He stayed there until he was 16, but he knew he needed to come back to North America to get where he wants to go, which is NCAA Div 1.
He moved from the UK to Quebec two years ago and played two seasons of prep hockey at Stanstead College, home of the Spartans. Steele earned a scholarship from Cornell University in the process and now he’s in Chilliwack, preparing for the jump to college hockey.
“It (the BCHL) was really tough at first. Completely different speed. A lot of contact. A lot of get your head up and get the puck on and off your stick as fast as possible,” he said. “Obviously there are a bunch of skilled people in this league, but all the one-on-one coaching I’ve been getting with the Chiefs has been really helpful.”
In nine games with Chilliwack so far, Steele has one goal, one assist and two penalty minutes.
“I consider myself an offensive defenceman with the ability to make plays and join the rush, and I’m not quite there yet in this league,” he said. “But I feel like it’s almost there.
“I guess we’ll see next game.”
The next game is tonight (Friday, Oct. 28) on the road at Alberni Valley, followed by a Saturday night game at Victoria.