OMAR PACHA may have endured a baptism of fire in his first season as a player-coach – but he believes he will only benefit from the experience.
His first season in the Elite League under predecessor Sylvain Cloutier was a comparably simple affair, brought in for the offensive and defensive strengths that led to him being the club’s leading points scorer from the blue line at the end of the 2013-14 campaign.
Cloutier’s exit understandably left a big hole in the club but, despite being written off by most people with a passing interest in the UK’s top flight, 28-year-old Pacha has guided the East Yorkshire into a promising position after being installed by owner Bobby McEwan.
And while a top five finish will remain a distant dream for Hull and the teams around them in the bottom half of the table, cementing a play-off place as early as possible is an increasingly realistic aim.
His first year in charge hasn’t been without its problems, of course, a lack of ice time before the opening weekend was perhaps the most frustrating thing to contend with, along with the exit of former Stingrays captain Kurtis Dulle just days before the team’s first competitive match.
The unplanned departures of other players such as Matt Larke and CJ Chartrain presented other difficult moments, although no different to what most other hockey coaches in the Elite League have to deal with.
And while the stresses and strains of his dual role may have occasionally tested his resolve, Pacha remains optimistic for his team’s post-season chances.
“I’ve learned more in this past four months than in my entire life it seems,” said Pacha.
“With all the issues that we’ve encountered - both on and off the ice - and the injuries ... but it is a learning process and I have learned and, hopefully, it’s going to help me in the future.
“I try to stay positive most of the time, but sometimes you have to crack down on the guys. But, to be honest, the players I have, I’m privileged to have on my team - every single one of them is mature and that helps me a lot.
“We’ve got a great group of guys here, there are a lot leaders in that locker room, a lot of guys that do get along with each other and they get along both on and off the ice.
“I think we have a good chance of staying in the play-off places. We have to make the most of our game, use our speed and our tenacity - always work hard every single game. We have a solid goaltender, a good, solid D-core and we have good speed in the forwards so there is no reason why we can’t be sitting in a play-off spot come the end of the year.”
Four points against Gardiner Conference rivals Fife Flyers this weekend would signify a big step towards sealing a play-off place as soon as possible, rather than sweating it out over the last couple of weekends as has happened in previous seasons.
Stingrays head to Kirkcaldy on Saturday night before playing host at Hull Arena on Sunday (6pm).
Sitting three points behind Flyers with four games in hand, Stingrays can move above their rivals, although Pacha is expecting two tough nights.
“I want us to finish in the top six, it’s as simple as that,” added Pacha.
“We are in a good position to do that at the minute, but we have to get the job done and I think both teams realise this is a big weekend.”
Buoyed by a fantastic 4-2 road win at Belfast Giants last Saturday, Pacha said the mood in the Hull locker room was understandably positive going into the Fife double header, albeit tinged with slight disappointment at their failure not to overcome Braehead Clan on home ice 24 hours after their trip to the Odyssey Arena.
“Going into last weekend, we’d have been happy to take two points from two very tough games,” he said.
“But having won in Belfast and then gone into the third against Braehead 1-0 up, we couldn’t help but be disappointed.