Doncaster netminder Ben Norton ready to take the next step with Great Britain Under-18s at IIHF World Championships
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Helsinki also featured briefly earlier this week as another destination in the teenager’s short career as Great Britain Under-18s finalised preparations for the Division 2A World Championships in Estonia.
With fellow netminder Alex Oldale – from Sheffield – getting injured in the second warm-up game in Finland on Thursday, the likelihood is that 18-year-old Norton will get the nod to start between the pipes.
With the small matter of a global coronavirus pandemic having denied him the opportunity to play for GB previously when selected for the Under-16s two years ago, it will have been well worth the wait for Norton, along with the majority of his team-mates who also missed out at the younger level.
For the last three years, Norton has been studying at Northwood School in Lake Placid, New York, combining his education with regular training and gym sessions to prepare for a high standard of hockey at the weekends.
So impressed was younger sibling and fellow netminder Dan with the improvements in his brother’s game, he joined him at the prestigious school last September.
This autumn, the older Norton will return to the USA to forge a career in junior hockey, the ambition being to go on and play collegiate hockey.
In the meantime, he is looking forward to his debut on the international stage, the first of what he hopes will be many appearances for the national team, helping the 18s return to Division 1B, from where they were relegated three years ago.
“Having to wait so long to play for GB will make it even more special this weekend,” said Norton, who played in both the warm-up games in Finland earlier this week.
“It’s going to be a very nice feeling to play for my country and pull on that GB jersey.
“We have quite a tight group of players and it’s a good atmosphere around the team – even at the trials it felt like a team rather than people competing against each other all of the time.
“Between Alex and me, we’re confident we can help us clinch the gold medal we’re aiming for.”
Having started his junior career in Sheffield, Norton switched to Bradford Bulldogs for the 2015-16 season, working under head coach Andy Brown, who is in Estonia as an assistant coach to Sean Easton.
Spells followed in Coventry and Sheffield, which led to time in Austria before he made the move to Northwood in 2019.
“It’s been going really well in Northwood,” added Norton.
“I’ve been playing pretty well this year, pretty consistent, which is always good.
"Looking forward, the end goal is to play college hockey and then, hopefully, professional but well have to see about that.”
Northwood coach Jeff Miller said the young British goalie quickly made a good impression, both on and off the ice.
“Ben joined Northwood three years ago and made a smooth transition into our hockey program and community,” said Miller.
“He has been a go-to guy in the crease for the Varsity squad since he first arrived on campus and has continued to improve throughout his tenure.
“We feel that the next step for Ben is to play junior hockey. This would give him an opportunity to further his development and pursue his goal of playing collegiate hockey.”
Norton has famous footsteps to follow in from Northwood, with former New York Rangers goaltender Mike Richter – who helped the Blueshirts win the Stanley Cup in 1994 – one of a number of former students to go on to play in the NHL.
Having already had first-hand experience of Norton, Brown is equally impressed, believing the 18s to be in safe hands in Tallinn.
“Ben looks like he is playing at a good level right now,” said Brown.
“I’m not worried if one goalie doesn’t perform that we won’t have a good enough replacement – both of these lads will win us games.”