FOR the second season running, Omar Pacha finds himself at the helm of the Elite League’s overwhelming underdogs.
Last season, the 29-year-old Canadian took centre stage when he succeeded Sylvain Cloutier as player-coach of Hull Stingrays.
As was often the case with Hull, they were tipped to miss out on the end-of-season play-offs, a situation deemed to be even more of a guarantee given they were being led by a first-year coach.
But Pacha not only took Hull to a top-eight finish, but went on to guide them to the Final Four Weekend in Nottingham where they were denied by Mathieu Roy’s last-minute winner for Sheffield Steelers, the South Yorkshire club going on to miss out on the double after losing to Coventry Blaze in the final.
Within weeks, however, the Stingrays had folded with Pacha swiftly appointed to reprise his role at his former club’s EIHL replacements, Manchester Storm.
Yet again, it has been a testing time for Pacha, as well as his new colleagues, who relaunched a franchise last seen in 2002 before its collapse.
Going into 2016, Manchester find themselves bottom of the overall standings, four points off the all-important eighth spot.
Today sees them welcome title-chasing Steelers to Altrincham Arena (3pm) in the first of a double-header that will see the two teams face-off again in South Yorkshire tomorrow night (7pm).
In each of the three previous meetings this season – two of them in the Challenge Cup – it is the Steelers who have prevailed.
Pacha, however, has been buoyed by recent performances and believes his baptism of fire in Hull has helped him cope in only his second season as a coach.
“There were lots of issues in Hull and not many people gave us much of a chance with anything,” said Pacha.
“It’s been a very challenging first half of the season, there’s been a lot of stuff to sort out off the ice, but that seems to be settling down now.
“On the ice, we’ve been improving all along. Again, nobody has given us much chance because we’re a new club in the league.
“But we don’t just want to be in this league. We want to make the play-offs – to miss out would be extremely disappointing.
“We pushed the leaders Cardiff Devils close on the road on Wednesday and if we can maintain that level of performance, then I’m confident we can make the play-offs, which would be some achievement.”
Steelers go into today’s clash waiting to find out if key forwards Mathieu Roy and Colton Fretter are recovered from injury.