“Hartmann must play!” was the cry from disgruntled Edinburgh Capitals fans following their 2-0 home defeat by Fife Flyers on Hogmanay.
In front of their biggest crowd of the season, an estimated 2000, a full-strength Edinburgh failed to light the lamp against a short-benched Flyers side, a task made all the harder with their player coach and principle playmaker sitting behind the bench.
Capitals have the luxury of 13 imports, one over the number allowed to play in any Elite League match and player-coach Richard Hartmann’s decision to sit out every time the club’s foreign stars are all available – a move that initially baffled the Murrayfield faithful – has boiled over to frustration among some sections of the club’s support.
The defeat by Fife was Edinburgh’s fifth in a row, four of which were at home and/or against Gardiner Conference rivals, and the club, now eighth in the league, will soon drop out of the play-off places unless their form improves.
To be fair to the experienced Slovakian, Hartmann has been playing and, with the club short through injury and suspension recently, had iced in four of their last five matches.
To say that the result would have been different had the 39-year-old picked himself on Wednesday, would be unfair to Fife, who outplayed the Caps and deserved their victory.
However, Hartmann, despite his own injuries and earlier in the season deputising in defence, enjoys some of the best figures on the team. In 20 games, he has scored ten goals and registered seven assists, giving him a points-per-game ratio of 0.85. A stat bettered only by Rene Jarolin, the two countrymen also enjoy an almost telepathic relationship on the ice. When Hartmann is missing, their link-up play and combined end product are sorely missed.
However, it is easy to forget the excellent 4-2 win Edinburgh achieved last month at high-flying Braehead Clan, when Hartmann, who was fit to play, coached from the bench. Plus, upset fans should also remember, with injuries and suspensions a constant thorn in the Caps’ side, he has only had the opportunity to employ the tactic of “dropping” himself on four occasions.
But Hogmanay Hockey was Edinburgh’s showpiece game of the season and fans deserved to see the home side put out their strongest and most entertaining team, of which Hartmann himself is a key ingredient.
Speaking after the defeat and the decision to play inexperienced Callum Boyd in his place on a line with Jarolin and Daniel Naslund, to allow for five import defenders, a disappointed Hartmann said: “I didn’t think we played such a bad game, we didn’t capitalise on our chances and that was our big mistake. We’re playing well in flashes but that’s not enough and right now it’s the key factor for us.
“I thought this was the best way to do it, and obviously it’s not. If we had won the game we wouldn’t have been talking about my decision.
“In the last couple of games I felt our ‘D’ ran out of gas at the end so I gave them an extra man in favour of myself. But they didn’t want to come off and were staying out on the ice and getting tired. I was shouting at them to change every 40 seconds but they didn’t listen.”
Caps travel to Nottingham Panthers tomorrow, a team who have won three in a row including two wins over league leaders Sheffield Steelers, before returning home to play Braehead on Sunday (face-off 6pm).
The fans are demanding Hartmann play and under current circumstances yes he should, but the bigger question is, should they have to ask so much of a veteran in his 21st professional season who has so much more than his own game to worry about, and can other players do more to share that burden?