MUCH else may be on the rocks, but British ice hockey has rarely been in a better place. Helped by Robert Dowd and Ben O’Connor – good North-East lads – the GB national team has just confounded all expectations by securing its place in the world elite group for the second successive season.

It came at the championships in Slovakia with a 4-3 win against France, ice-hot favourites, who’d led with three goals in four minutes. It was the team’s first victory at the highest level since 1962.

“You should have seen our boys at breakfast next morning,” says Andy Potts, our man at the rinkside.

“We might have had a few swift ones,” says Robert, Billingham boy, now 30. Ben was born in Durham, son of GB and Durham Wasps player Mike O’Connor. Both he and Ben now play for Sheffield Steelers.

Great Britain had won successive promotions to reach the elite group for the first time in a generation, but were expected swiftly to slip whence they’d come. Robert scored the first goal against France as the fightback began. “We always believed we could do it,” he insists.

His elder brothers both played for Billingham Bears. Robbie, his dad, was a prominent local cricket and football player. “Ice hockey was still the main thing, I was watching it while still in nappies,” says Robert.

“I wouldn’t say that I was forced into it, I played lots of other sports, but I didn’t really have much choice.”

Confirmed among the world elite, he hopes for several more years at the top. “Not many get past mid-30s, it’s such a rough game,” says Robert.

“I’ll probably take a couple of weeks off, play a bit of golf, but then it’s back into training for the new season in August. It’s still a minority sport, I hope this will inspire the next generation.”

ANDY POTTS, our man (temporarily) in Bratislava, is a Sunderland football fan, former Spennymoor United programme editor and author of books on a season in the Northern League – the long-serving former chairman was termed “sometimes curmudgeonly” – and a decade of the Russian game.

Whilst contemplating legal action over the former, we told of the latter a year ago. “To casual observers, Russian footballers look like a collection of overpaid show ponies hired by corrupt teams to play in semi-derelict stadiums in front of violent hooligans,” he wrote in Snow on the Seats.

It’s while covering the ice hockey in Slovakia that Andy comes across – “just about everywhere” – posters for the Amosfest.

This appears to be a four-day knees-up to mark the centenary of Comensius University – “biggest and oldest in Slovakia” – and featuring the likes of Willy Rowl, Lixx, Johnny de City and Medial Banana (who may be fruitfully English.)

Though a click on the “translate” button describes the event as “grandiose”, there’s nothing to suggest how the great occasion came by its illustrious name.

It was held from May 9-12, the good folk of Bratislava presumably now having to wait another 100 years for a reprise. Northern Echo readers are luckier: there’s still an Amosfest twice a week.