KURTIS Dulle says Hull Stingrays are nurturing a growing belief that they can get themselves up among the Elite League honours this season.
Although the East Yorkshire club go into Saturday’s home clash with defending champions Belfast Giants on the back of two defeats, a run of four straight wins prior to that has created a buoyant mood at Hull Arena.
Qualification to the last eight of the Challenge Cup has been secured out of a group not many gave them a hope of progressing from and, ahead of this weekend, they sit third in the Gardiner Conference standings, close on the tails of top two Dundee Stars and Braehead Clan.
So far, it’s all a far cry from widespread pre-season claims that predicted Braehead would run away with the Gardiner title and, with it, the overall league trophy. And while it would still be foolish to bet against the Clan given their superior playing budget, it seems the other four teams are intent on pushing them all the way.
“Everybody talks about confidence, but it is a big thing,” said Stingrays captain and defenceman Dulle, now in his third season with the club and who has helped tighten up Hull’s back-end by tempering his more naturally offensive game.
“We are feeling good about ourselves at the moment, without getting carried away. At the start of the season most people assumed Braehead were going to win this conference, but there’s a feeling here that we can maybe win it ourselves.”
Saturday sees Belfast make their second visit to Hull Arena having returned back to Northern Ireland early last month with both points from a 4-1 defeat. But it was a game Hull remained in contention for most of until Noah Clarke’s 52nd-minute strike gave the Giants a three-goal lead and ended any comeback hopes the home side still had.
Belfast will arrive in Yorkshire top of the overall Elite League table, something not lost on Dulle, who will be determined his team avoid a similar blank to the one they drew last season when they lost all six games in regulation against Doug Christiansen’s side.
“They take things very seriously as a team,” said 33-year-old Dulle. “They are always ready to go and in their coach they have somebody who never leaves anything out in preparing for every different game.
“A team like that, they are strong all over the ice, there’s no obvious weakness.
“But we’re playing well at the moment and that helps when you go into games like this one. You’re always excited to be playing the better teams, we seem to raise our game against the likes of Belfast, Sheffield and Nottingham.
“What we need to make sure of, though, is that we approach every single game with the same attitude.”
Hull have a chance to put that aim to the test when they make another trip to Scotland on Sunday, this time facing Edinburgh Capitals in another important Conference fixture.
The eight-game series is level so far, Hull winning 6-3 at home in September before being edged out 4-3 at Edinburgh 24 hours later.