DREW Bannister has backed rival player-coach Sylvain Cloutier to turn around Hull Stingrays’ fortunes after the Yorkshire club’s dismal start to the season.
The Stingrays have posted only two wins in 14 matches this season with a 3-2 defeat at home to fellow strugglers Edinburgh Capitals on Saturday prompting a furious Cloutier to place his entire roster on two weeks’ notice.
His action was met with the hoped-for response when his team returned from Dundee Stars 24 hours later with a 2-1 victory – their first in five visits to Tayside.
The return of defenceman Kurtis Dulle will see Cloutier drop to the bench for the next few games to help him determine better who stays and who goes.
Former NHL defenceman Bannister played a key role for Hull last season, with results noticeably improving following his arrival as player/assistant coach in late November.
Those part-time coaching duties helped the 37-year-old land a player-coach role of his own with Elite League rivals the Braehead Clan, whom he brings to Hull Arena on Wednesday night (7.30pm) for his first return visit since leaving. Having worked closely alongside Cloutier for six months, Bannister believes his former boss will soon find the right formula.
“There’s a lot of pressure in Hull and I’m sure they’ll come out fighting,” said Bannister. “It’s a difficult situation for Sylvain, but I know he’ll handle it correctly and make the right decisions for that club. I know him well and it’s never about him, it’s always about what’s best for the team.
“They’ve played a lot of difficult games against the top teams early on and they’ve generally been close games. And Fife and Edinburgh are not the same kind of teams as Newcastle and Edinburgh were last season, they’ve both got some good players in their line-ups.
“So I don’t think where Hull currently are in the table is a fair indication of how good the team is.”
Braehead, who found themselves starting the season later than everybody else this time around, got off to a fine start by winning their opening three games. They’ve found the going a little harder since, but can boast of impressive home wins over Coventry and Cardiff.
Bannister, who admits the role of player-coach leaves him precious little time for anything else these days, is pleased with the way his team have responded since his arrival in Glasgow, but is keen for them to start looking as convincing on the road as they generally have done at home.
“I’m excited because I think we can only get better as the season goes on,” he added.
“We can certainly build on what we already have as guys play together more and we get our conditioning up to speed.
“We’re getting good crowds and we look quite solid at home, the game against Nottingham aside (Braehead lost 8-3). We do need to get better on the road though and that has to happen soon - hopefully that will start in Hull.”
While Cloutier will be glad to see a friendly face back at the Hull Arena, his attention will be chiefly focused on the current frustrations he has with his team, with his self-appointed time on the bench intended to give him the necessary insight into who is and isn’t contributing effectively on the ice.
The Hull coach, who yesterday confirmed 20-year-old British-Canadian forward Andy McKinney would also line-up against Braehead after signing a two-way deal from Telford Tigers, said: “Being on the bench will give me a better view of everything out on the ice, something you don’t get when you’re out there playing.
“It will provide a good opportunity to see who really wants to be here.
“It will be good to see Drew back here, I saw him on Sunday in Dundee and we had a good chat. He’ll do well in Braehead because he’s got the CV behind him that will command respect from his players immediately and he has so much experience.
“But we need to make life uncomfortable for him and his team on Wednesday and make sure we go out hard and fast at them at the start.”