CLOSE friends they may still be, but Hull Stingrays’ player-coach Omar Pacha knows there can be no love lost for 60 minutes against former team-mate Guillaume Doucet tomorrow night.
Try as he might, Pacha could not convince his former housemate to stay on in Hull for a second season after he had lit up the Elite League during his first campaign under former player-coach Sylvain Cloutier.
Doucet finished the season as the second highest goalscorer in the league – just one behind Coventry’s Ryan Ginand – but opted for playing in the more highly-regarded Danish top tier rather than remain in East Yorkshire.
But a return of just five goals and three assists in 25 games for Herlev and a failure to reach the play-offs saw Doucet heading back to the UK, where – despite understandable interest from his former club – he was quickly snapped up by second-placed Nottingham Panthers.
In nine games, the 28-year-old Canadian has already registered 11 points, including six goals – even scoring on his debut in a 4-1 win at Sheffield Steelers. He makes his first return to Hull since leaving tomorrow night, although Pacha insists the game is about more than just one man.
“He’s obviously a quality player, he showed that last season here with us,” said Pacha, whose side have lost twice to Panthers on home ice previously this season.
“I can understand him going to Nottingham. He has a real chance to win a championship there.
“We’re still good friends, we were skating together the other day, but – at least for 60 minutes on Sunday – we’re going to have to put that to one side.
“He’s such an explosive player and so quick over the ice. We’re going to have to work hard to keep him quiet. But they have such quality all over the ice, they have a number of players who can hurt you, not just Guillaume.”
Of the three meetings this season against title-chasing Nottingham, the Stingrays have lost twice, although their one success was one to linger long in the memory for the club’s fans, Pacha’s players stunning Corey Neilson’s team 6-1 at the National Ice Centre back in September.
It is just one of a number of impressive triumphs for Hull this season, with wins also coming on the road at leaders Braehead Clan and defending champions Belfast Giants, prompting Pacha to rightly declare that his team need fear nobody in the league.
“There’s no reason why we can’t repeat the success we had in Nottingham back in September, we have nothing to fear,” said Pacha, still missing influential British captain Matty Davies due to a knee injury.
“I really do believe that we are a match for anybody in this league and – on any given night – we are capable of beating anybody.”