HULL Stingrays’ player-coach Sylvain Cloutier says his players need to keep looking ‘up’ in order to boost their hopes of making the Elite League play-offs.
All hopes of a possible top six finish - a genuine pre-season aim - have long gone following a run of only two wins from 14 games which has left Hull hovering above the bottom two in the 10-team league.
Only the top eight make the post-season and although Hull still look likely to achieve that aim, currently being the eighth-placed club, they can expect a tough run-in over the course of the next 10 weeks as they fight it out with three Scottish teams – Edinburgh Capitals, Dundee Stars and Fife Flyers – in order to clinch a play-off spot.
The Capitals arrive in Hull on Saturday night for a crunch game. Richard Hartmann’s team have been something of a surprise package this season, although it would have been almost impossible not to improve on last season’s showing given the desperate situation they found themselves in off the ice.
They arrive in Hull four points ahead of their hosts having played one game less but, like Hull, in something of a form slump with only one win in eight games.
Cloutier has tried to lighten the mood in practice this week to keep his players more relaxed and a “positive” team meeting was also held following last week’s disappointing 7-4 home defeat to Braehead Clan, a result which saw their losing run extended to four games.
The 37-year-old Canadian – still hopeful of bringing in another import defenceman before the trade deadline – believes his team need to make sure they win the ‘league within a league’ down at the bottom of the table, essentially a battle between themselves, Edinburgh and bottom two Dundee and Fife.
“We need to win our mini-league down at the bottom of the table,” said Cloutier. “That’s all we need to worry about from now. If we do that we’ll obviously make the play-offs.
“People are talking about the Edinburgh game as a ‘must-win’ game, but all 21 games we have left are massive. We need to be going into every game looking to take something out of it, whether it’s Belfast, Nottingham whoever.
“We need to concentrate on looking up at the teams above us – obviously Edinburgh – we can’t spend too much time looking in the rear-view mirror and worrying what Dundee and Fife are doing or we’ll just lose our way and crash.”
Dundee currently sit six points behind Hull, now having played the same number of games following last night’s 3-1 defeat at home to Cardiff Devils. Fife, who this week took on former Hull forward Frantisek Bakrlik following his release earlier in the week by Coventry, are two points further back in their first Elite League season, with three games in hand.
Hull still have to face Dundee for more times, the next meeting being at home on Saturday January 21. They also have to play Fife twice more. Following Saturday’s meeting, Cloutier’s team only have to face the Capitals one more time, with a trip to the Scottish capital scheduled for Sunday, January 22.
Tickets for Hull v Edinburgh (7pm) can be bought by telephoning 01482 325252 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
To watch highlights of Hull’s 7-4 defeat to Braehead Clan last Sunday go HERE