Capitals coach gets first look at new team

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New head coach Dmitri Khristich leads Edinburgh Capitals into tonight’s friendly at Murrayfield against the University of Manitoba Bisons (face-off 7.30pm) having had just one training session with his new charges.

The Ukrainian admits his squad have plenty work to do before the new ice hockey season gets going for real next month but he’s relishing the challenge.

In truth, the match against the Canadian tourists, who won one and lost one of their two-game series with Belfast Giants last weekend, has come too early for the Murrayfield men, with former NHL all-star Khristich admitting he’s not seen enough of his new team to form even a first impression.

Khristich, who in a sparkling playing career iced in just shy of 900 NHL games and played for Ukraine at the Olympic Games, said: “That was really our first practice, and the ice surface wasn’t very good, it’s cold in the rink so it should have been better, but I heard they were painting the ice and that was probably why.

“Our team aren’t all here yet, and even a couple of the guys we were expecting have had problems with their flights, but we still have a couple of weeks before the season starts, which gives us a chance to spend a lot of time working together.”

“This is a new challenge, I’ve never been a head coach before. I’ve been involved with the Ukraine National team, and had coaching roles on a couple of KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) teams, but being a head coach is completely new.”

Khristich, who along with Capitals co-owner Scott Neil, has spent the summer putting together a squad that includes 13 new signings, continued: “It’s my first time being involved in building a team, I don’t know too much about the guys we have signed yet, we’ve been talking a lot throughout the summer and what we have are guys who really want to be here. We have older Russian guys who want to continue with their career, and younger Canadian players, some of them combining hockey with their education. The players we have signed really want to get a lot out of being here, and that is an important factor when you try to put together a good team.”

Edinburgh will be without experienced Russian duo Konstantin Tesleyukevich and Alexander Islamov, both still awaiting their work visa, plus Sergei Banashkov, Igor Valeyev, and last season’s top scorer, Pavel Vorobyev, who all arrive in Edinburgh today, but will not ice against the Bisons.

With so many key players out, tonight’s match will surely give Capitals’ youngsters like 18-year-old forward Harry Ferguson, who attended a GB-U20 trial in Sheffield last week, a chance to impress their new coach.

Ferguson said: “This is a chance for us all to show what we can bring to the table, I think we have nine or ten imports in now, but that still leaves quite a few spaces in the line-up.

“I’m really excited for the season to get started, the team looks like we can be really impressive this year as we’ve signed a lot of experience.

“It will be interesting to see how we get on tonight against a team who will give us a great test. If we manage to win it would be great.”

Edinburgh will tonight give a debut to 22-year-old Canadian forward Dillon Lawrence, who has flown himself over at his own expense. Lawrence, who holds a British passport, did not play last season through injury, spent three years playing American college hockey with Boston University, icing in 37 games.