It was a hard-fought win: Italy tied the game three times before yielding to a 5-3 scoreline. But in a final game that would see one of the pre-tournament favourites deprived of promotion, the Brits secured another memorable victory to go alongside famous nights like Budapest in 2018 or Kosice in 2019.
Mike Hammond, who scored a goal and had two crucial assists, summed up the feelings of the team. "It's fantastic," he said "We couldn't ask for anything better than this. Home ice, a gold medal, going back up.
"I've never been a part of something like this, with a group of guys that connects so well. We literally put everything on the line for each other."
For Italy, a campaign that began with so much promise ended in bitter disappointment. Forward Daniel Mantenuto said: "We came here for gold, we wanted to win this thing. But unfortunately we had some lapses at some point, but we'll get better and come back stronger."
Italy had the evening’s first big chance, with Ben Bowns called into action to turn aside Ivan Deluca on the doorstep. But when Britain got the first power play, it immediately turned that into the opening goal. Evan Mosey quarterbacked the play, Hammond picked out cross-ice pass and Brett Perlini was all alone at the back door to knock the puck in.
That pushed up the volume in the Motorpoint Arena, but Italy showed its teeth in response. Bowns was alert to deny Daniel Mantenuto with his blocker. Shortly after that, on a delayed penalty, a deflected shot from Thomas Larkin drew the Italians level. Ironically, the Italian goalscorer was born in London to an Italian mother.
The first period set the tone for a game in which Britain kept getting in front, and Italy kept fighting back. Within a minute of the restart, Cade Neilson restored the home lead after great work from Robert Dowd. The Sheffield Steelers veteran fired a shot into the board but chased the puck into the corner to set up Neilson at the base of the right-hand circle. Cade feinted a pass towards Hammond before stroking a shot through Fazio’s pads.
"It was a fun game to play in," Dowd said. "Both teams came out to play, it was evenly matched. I think we had the edge on possession, we were dominant at times. But credit to Italy, they came to play and scored some big, timely goals to keep it going all the way."
Fazio then made big saves to deny Neilson and Ben Lake before an Italian counter saw Alex Petan tie the scores. GB failed to deal with a loose puck in front of the net and even though Petan was falling as he got to the rebound, he managed to beats Bowns to the blocker side.
That prompted a spell of Italian pressure and Larkin tested Bowns again before the Nottingham crowd was back on its feet to celebrate the 3-2 goal. Ollie Betteridge beat Tommaso Traverso to the puck, keeping play alive in the Italian zone. He knocked a pass to Hammond, who advanced on Fazio’s net and produced a nifty bit of stick handling to score.
Now play was increasingly stretched, with the action largely bypassing centre ice. That suited Italy, which could play with pace on the counter and drew level for the third time when Daniel Glira got on the end of Luca Frigo’s surge down the left.
But Italy could not make it to the intermission on level terms. A delayed penalty saw GB set up camp in front of Fazio’s net before Hammond and Perlini produced a repeat of the opening goal.
In the third Italy stepped up the pace, searching desperately for a way back into the game and the promotion places. But the best chance of the game saw Bowns pull off another monster save to add to his impressive highlight reel. First he closed the door on a Daniel Tedesco wraparound, then snapped instantly into position to stop a bullet from Petan.
"Britain played a great game and a great tournament," said Italy's Larkin. "They deserved to win it and hats off to them. I think it was a just result. The teams that deserved to go up are going up and we have to look inside ourselves and focus on what we can do to be better next time."
As the clock ran down, Italy pressed for the breakthrough. Britain, forced to defend, worked hard to keep the puck live and seconds ticking away until Mike Keenan called Fazio to the bench with 2:41 to play. That gamble brought the coup de grace as Neilson potted an empty net goal to turn the final moments into a procession for the Brits.
GB head coach Pete Russell, who has now masterminded two promotions to the top division, reckoned this tournament was more difficult than the 2018 promotion campaign in Budapest.
"We came here to win five games and we've done that," he said. "This was harder because people thought we would do this, the expectations were different. But doing it at home, seeing everyone now on the ice with their families, that's awesome."