HULL Stingrays may have one eye on their midweek Elite League clash with bottom club Fife Flyers, but player-coach Sylvain Cloutier wants his team to play a ‘spoiler’ role before then in the Challenge Cup.
After a dreadful start to the season which saw them claim only one win in 14 games, Hull eventually delivered on their promise by posting a three-game winning streak.
That momentum may have been stymied by a narrow defeats in league and Cup to Belfast Giants and Sheffield Steelers respectively but, crucially, the performances have still been there, something also evident in the 2-2 draw against Cardiff Devils last Sunday which saw them pick up their first Challenge Cup point.
The Stingrays finish what has been a poor Cup campaign this weekend when they follow up a visit from Coventry Blaze on Saturday (7pm) with a trip to Sheffield the following night (6pm).
Hull cannot qualify and, realistically, Coventry’s hopes of progressing to the final four are virtually gone. But the Steelers still control their own destiny, knowing that victory in their remaining three games will see them join Group B winners Nottingham in the semi-finals.
Cloutier, however, is determined his team ensure that the Steelers earn their qualification the hard way, urging his players to maintain their recent momentum ahead of Tuesday’s long trip north to Fife.
“We can’t just turn it off and expect to go up to Fife and just turn it on - we need to stay sharp and focused,“ said Cloutier.
“We need to play hard and we need to play physical on both nights - we want to take points off Coventry and Sheffield. We don’t want to finish bottom of the group.
“They are still fighting for that second spot in the group so maybe we can be the spoiler, who knows.”
It is still not clear which import will be leaving the club, a situation brought about by the return of 2010-11 captain Kurtis Dulle, re-signed by Cloutier to shore up a creaking blue line that was shipping too many shots and goals.
An announcement was expected earlier this week but an injury to Canadian forward Jason Silverthorn which forced him to sit out last weekend bought Cloutier more time after he himself had sat out three games to go behind the bench and observe his players more closely.
Defenceman Josh Mizerek suffered an arm injury in last week’s draw with Cardiff but it’s expected that once he’s fit Cloutier’s decision on who goes will be revealed.
As well as the return of Silverthorn for this weekend, Stingrays will be boosted by the addition of British forward Andy McKinney, who quit Telford Tigers in the EPL earlier this week to take up the offer of a permanent deal in Hull.
McKinney impressed Cloutier during last month’s 9-4 demolition of Braehead Clan.
“He is a physical player, who finishes his checks, and brings a lot of energy to the line-up,” said Cloutier. “He battles and is committed – he is exactly the type of player I like.”