HULL STINGRAYS’ player-coach Sylvain Cloutier is determined to accentuate the positive as his side look to nail down an Elite League play-off spot.
The East Yorkshire club have five games in which to ensure they avoid missing out on the post-season for the second year running and find themselves in a four-way battle for the last three play-off spots.
Three of Hull’s remaining fixtures see them face-off against a resurgent Sheffield Steelers side, who have been galvanised by the arrival of former Cardiff Devils coach Gerad Adams.
The first of those fixtures is at Hull Arena tonight, although Cloutier admits he is keeping an eye on the results of Coventry Blaze, Cardiff and Fife Flyers – the three teams who can pip Hull to a top-eight finish and, with it, play-off qualification.
Two straight defeats against Gardiner Conference rivals Dundee Stars could be reason for some long faces in Hull, but Cloutier has seen enough in his team’s performances to give him hope they can achieve their goal.
“We are still a solid group,” said Cloutier. “I can’t take anything away from the guys, there’s nothing negative to say. We just have to stay positive and not get down because we lost those two games against Dundee.
“We have been playing well and I expect nothing different from us against Sheffield. Gerad is a good coach who did a great job in Cardiff and he has breathed new life into Sheffield since he went there.
“His teams have always battled extremely hard and it will be no different now – we just have to make sure we match them.”
For the Steelers, Thursday night’s 4-0 win on the road at Dundee Stars was further evidence that the games can’t come fast enough at the moment for a team so clearly brimming with confidence.
After their trip to Hull, Adams’s team will return home to host champions Belfast Giants, 5-4 winners at home to Cardiff Devils on Friday night.
Goaltender Frank Doyle, who registered his fifth shutout of the season on Tayside, said: “The whole team earned that shut-out Dundee as much as I did. Right now we are playing excellent defence and, all over the ice, we were very good on Thursday.
“It’s going to be a tough game in Hull on Saturday before we take on Belfast, we’re loving playing at the moment and the games can’t come quick enough.”
The man who Adams replaced at the Motorpoint Arena – Doug Christiansen – was last night appointed by Dundee as their bench coach for the rest of the season.
Christiansen, sacked less than halfway through his two-year deal with Steelers, said: “It’s been a very tough year and I’ve learned some hard lessons. I think it’s important for me to roll up my sleeves and get back to work.”
While he lost his job unexpectedly early in South Yorkshire, Christiansen is still planning for next month’s World Championships in his role as head coach of Great Britain, who are hoping to secure an instant return to Division 1A after suffering a relegation last year.
“I’ve had a couple weeks to consider my next move and I thought it was important to stay in the Elite League, as I start to think ahead to the World Championships,” explained Christiansen.
“I remain fully committed to my role as coach of the national team and this time will give me additional opportunities to evaluate players around the league.”