Crucial month in front of ambitious Stingrays

BACK IN THE FRAME: Centre Matty Davies is expected to return to the Hull Stingrays line-up at Coventry Blaze tonight. Picture: Arthur Foster.
BACK IN THE FRAME: Centre Matty Davies is expected to return to the Hull Stingrays line-up at Coventry Blaze tonight. Picture: Arthur Foster.
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MATTY DAVIES believes Hull Stingrays are facing a crucial month which could make or break their Elite League season.

Winning the Gardiner Conference guarantees a place in the play-offs, with Hull currently well-placed, one point behind Dundee Stars. Although the Stars have three games in hand, confidence is high among Sylvain Cloutier’s roster, who picked up 12 points in eight games before heavy defeats earlier this week to Belfast Giants and Sheffield Steelers.

For most of that period, Hull have been playing short-benched due to a combination of injuries and unavailability, something player-coach Cloutier believes finally caught up with his tired players against two of the league’s leading teams.

Key British centre Davies, the 23-year-old missing since early December due to injury, is expected to return to the Hull line-up for tonight’s trip to Coventry Blaze, with defenceman Martin Ondrej also back from a three-game suspension.

But of more importance will be Fife Flyers visit to Hull tomorrow night, marking the first of eight games in the next 11 which pit Hull against Conference opposition.

“The Conference games are the biggest games for us, there’s no doubt about that – the Fife game on Sunday is huge,” said Davies.

“We’ve got a lot of Conference games in the next month so this period could make or break our season – we can’t afford a bad run at this stage because the league is better than before. At home we have been doing really well, so we need to make that count against Fife.”

The last month has proved something of a frustration for Davies, but he remains one of Hull’s key contributors during this campaign, posting four goals and 28 assists from 26 games and being in the top 10 for the whole league when it comes to setting up his team-mates. After a month off, the forward has declared himself fit to return and play a part in Hull’s push for the play-offs.

“The team have been playing really well, but I find it very difficult watching games from the sidelines – every player will tell you the same, so it’s been very frustrating,” added Davies.

“You don’t want to come back too early from injuries because sometimes, if you do, it can just set you back even more.

“But you’ve got to listen to your body and I think I’m fit enough to play again and I can’t wait to get back into it.”

Cloutier was far from impressed with his team at Ice Sheffield on Thursday – short-benched or not – and has warned them they can expect little from tonight’s trip to Coventry if they perform in a similar fashion at the Blaze’s SkyDome Arena.

“We need to get back to taking care of our ‘D’ zone,” said Cloutier.

“We got away from that in Sheffield and it was disappointing. Coventry are a good team and they have players who will punish you if you play like that.”