HULL STINGRAYS owner Bobby McEwan has heaped praise on player-coach Omar Pacha after guiding the club through to the Elite League play-offs with room to spare.
The East Yorkshire club ensured a place in the post-season with two games remaining and, after a 2-1 victory at Coventry Blaze on the last night of the regular season, sealed a first-round, two-legged meeting with Gardiner Conference champions Braehead Clan this weekend.
The first of those games sees Hull’s players head to Glasgow, before returning home in the small hours of Sunday morning to prepare for the second leg on home ice.
It’s been a testing campaign for all concerned at Hull, but one that has brought many rewards and some big scalps throughout the season - most notably on the road at Belfast Giants and Nottingham Panthers - and McEwan is convince his young team can spring another surprise and book a place at the play-off finals weekend at the National Ice Centre.
That they are in a position to do so, says McEwan, is chiefly down to their rookie player-coach who, at just 27-years-old, was surprisingly chosen to succeed Sylvain Cloutier, who departed at the end of last season.
“I think Omar has had a great season,” said McEwan. “We have qualified for the play-offs with a couple of games to spare. He’s done a fantastic job with the guys so far and the morale with the players is great.
“We did our homework on these guys and we’ve brought them in and they’ve been a godsend to the club to be honest.
“To hear some of the fans say that it is the best group of players that they have seen at the club is a big compliment, particularly when you consider where we were at the start of the summer.”
McEwan, who doubles up as bench coach on match nights, was part of the memorable play-off run back in 2012 under Cloutier, which clinically dispatched of Sheffield Steelers in the first round to make the final four weekend, where they were convincingly beaten by Nottingham in the semi-finals.
Braehead coach Ryan Finnerty, who has guided his team into Europe’s Champions Hockey League next season after finishing runners-up, was coach of the Steelers at the time of the 7-4 defeat and suffered similar heartache the following year at the hands of Coventry.
And McEwan thinks his team is capable of inflicting more play-off misery on the Scottish club’s head coach and is hoping injured trio Zah Hervato, Yan Turcotte and Cory Tanaka are given the green light to return this weekend.
“This team is capable of doing anything,” he added. “We lose 9-3 in Braehead last Saturday and then, after a long bus journey to Scotland and back, jump on another coach and go down to Coventry the following night and win 2-1 in a shoot-out.
“Once we get bodies back in the line-up you see the real quality of this team - but as far as this weekend goes we’re just going to have to see what the medical team says and take it from there.”