JASON HEWITT still believes his Hull Pirates can bridge the gap on NIHL National leaders Telford Tigers – but admits he probably needs his roster to get back to full health in order to do so.
Fifth-placed Hull head to Shropshire tonight 13 points adrift of Tom Watkins’s team, who have also opened up a five-point advantage on second-placed Swindon.
It is Hull’s third visit of the season to Telford and they are still looking for their first points there, having been edged out 6-5 in October and again 5-3 last month.
Hewitt continues to be without influential playmaker Matty Davies and defenceman Lee Haywood – neither of who are expected to return until early January.
“I do feel we can close the gap, but it has just been one of those years in terms of injuries,” said Hewitt. “We’ve not been healthy all year, which has made it a bit of a frustrating season really.
“We’re missing a guy who is arguably the most skilled British guy in the league in Matt and who is worth about 100 points a year – we’re missing those 100 points right now. Then, in Lee Haywood, we’re without a top defenceman, who is a leader back there for us.
“But we’ll see when they get back and then, hopefully, we’ll give ourselves every chance to close that gap.”
Sheffield Steeldogs host Telford tomorrow after stunning second-placed Swindon Wildcats in a 4-1 win at Ice Sheffield on Friday night.
Ben Morgan's team gained an early advantage when Vladimir Luka struck at 5.03, with Alex Graham doubling the advantage on the power play just after the halfway mark. The 16-year-old then doubled his tally at 35.25 with a short-handed marker.
The Wildcats gave themselves a lifeline when Sam Bullas fired past Dmitri Zimozdra at 42.57 and although the hosts were heavily outshot in the third 17-5, they proved resolute, ensuring a deserved two points came their way when Craig Elliott made it 4-1 in the 58th minute.
Hull return home to host Leeds Chiefs for a third time this season tomorrow (5.30pm), with Sam Zajac’s team buoyed by a four-point weekend at Basingstoke last weekend and the news two days later that they will finally play their first-ever game at their Elland Road rink on January 31.
Before heading to Hull, Leeds ‘host’ Raiders IHC in Coventry tonight (7pm) with player-coach Sam Zajac admitting it is a huge game for his team, their Essex-based rivals sitting directly above them in the table with a five-point advantage, but having played three more games.
"We have a really good opportunity on Saturday to get two points against a team directly above us," said Zajac. "Essentially it is a four-pointer because if we can claw the points back on them, we’ve also got three games in hand on them.
"A win will put us in a good position to make up ground on them and then start looking at the teams even higher up the table.
"But you look at their results they’ve turned over Telford a couple of times and Hull a couple of times, so there is definitely a dangerous team in there."