IF Hull Stingrays are to win the Gardiner Conference this season, they are going to have to find a way to beat Dundee Stars.
Four times the two teams have met this season; four times Hull have been edged out by the odd goal – once in a shoot-out.
Both teams missed out on the play-offs last time around, something which could partly explain why each have enjoyed a stellar campaign this time around.
Of the two, Dundee are marginally better off, currently lying second in the overall standings, while in the Gardiner Conference they sit two points behind leaders Hull with four games in hand.
There will still be three further meetings between the two sides after Saturday night’s encounter at Hull Arena but, if Sylvain Cloutier’s team are unable to take points off the Stars it’s likely they will miss out on the Gardiner title and, with it, a higher ranking in the post-season.
With a third meeting in nine days against Braehead Clan to follow in Scotland on Sunday, a third successive four-point weekend combined with favourable results elsewhere could lift Hull into the top half of the overall standings.
“This is definitely a big one for us,” said Cloutier, who hopes his team can extend their five-match winning run tonight.
To listen to Hull player-coach Sylvain Cloutier preview the weekend’s action click HERE
“The guys are really focused at the minute and just taking it a shift at a time and a game at a time.
“Their goaltender, Dan Bakala, is the league’s MVP (Most Valuable Player). He’s got the best save percentage in the league and he wins them hockey games – he gives them a chance to win every time they step out on the ice.
“He is the reason they are where they are so we need to get the better of him. If we win, that puts us four points behind Dundee in the overall standings and they are in second place.
“It also gives us a bit more of a cushion in the Conference. They will then have to catch-up with their games in hand and we’ll still have three more games with them before the end of the season.”
Cloutier – buoyed by the return of forward Jereme Tendler after a three-game absence due to a groin injury – would prefer his players to go into Braehead on Sunday evening with two points in the bag, knowing his players are going to face a hostile barrage from a team they have beaten in all five previous meetings this season, the latest being a 3-1 triumph on home ice on Wednesday night. Braehead moved four points ahead of Hull in the league standings with a 4-2 win against Fife Flyers.
“Braehead are going to be gunning for us, they are not very happy with the way things have gone for them against us and they’ve already made changes to their roster,” added Cloutier.
“It’s going to be tough and we don’t want to leave our building with nothing and go up to Braehead empty-handed.”