JANIS Ozolins has made the step up to Elite League level almost seamlessly, according to Hull Stingrays’ team-mate Jason Silverthorn.
The 23-year-pold Latvian was always destined to make a move after proving such a revelation with English Premier League outfit Sheffield Steeldogs for 18 months.
Last season saw Ozolins pick up the EPL player of the year award, finishing the season with 92 points – including a remarkable 55 goals – from just 55 appearances.
So far this season, the skilled forward is already leading the way for Sylvain Cloutier’s team, even currently being ahead of the club’s top scorer from the last two seasons, Jereme Tendler.
Not surprisingly, Ozolins’s haul of nine goals and seven assists from 14 games has placed him confortably in the league’s top 10 overall scorers, much to the delight of team-mate Silverthorn.
“Ozi has done a great job since coming in,” said Silverthorn. “You are never really sure how a guy is going to do once they have made the jump up from the EPL.
“But he’s a slippery little player and that makes him very effective and you can’t really ask for anymore from a kid that age.
“He’s just got that great knack of scoring goals which he also proved last season.”
Hull, who ended an eight-game winless streak with a 4-3 home win over Dundee Stars last Saturday, welcome another Gardiner Conference Scottish rival to East Yorkshire tonight, taking on a much-improved Fife Flyers.
Hull sit above Todd Dutiaume’s team in both league and conference standings but, given the new conference structure, Silverthorn acknowledges tonight’s first meeting of the season is more significant than any of last season’s.
“These are the huge games for us this season,” said Silverthorn.
“Top-to-bottom teams are stronger this season and you have to make sure you win your home games against your conference rivals, it’s crucial and we have to make life difficult for everybody who comes here.”
Hull will be missing British forward Andy Ward following the concussion he picked up during last weekend’s 4-2 Challenge Cup defeat at Sheffield Steelers, although they will be hoping to have captain Kurtis Dulle back in the line-up after he missed last weekend due to a stomach bug.
If so, player-coach Cloutier said that would give his team greater flexibility up front against a Fife team he believes is much improved on from last season.
“We hope to have Dulles back and it will be a big boost for us if he is,” said Cloutier. “We can move Hander Ryan Hand] back up front and roll with three lines.”
“Fife are a decent team and they have a lot of depth, especially with their British players. They have a few weapons but they are getting scoring from a lot of players.
“Fife are a much stronger team this year and have already shown they can beat anyone by knocking off Sheffield so we are going to have to be ready – we need those two conference points so we can continue to climb the standings.”