After Edinburgh Capitals’ disappointing start to the new ice hockey season, forward Jade Portwood admits his side face a stern test ahead of the weekend’s home double header against two teams who both expect to be battling it out for the Elite League title.
He also revealed, though, that he hopes a bonding session, held in the form of a team barbecue, will help the Murrayfield men set their own campaign alight.
Caps, who lost both their matches in last weekend’s opening round of fixtures, take on Sheffield Steelers tomorrow before matching up against Nottingham Panthers on Sunday (face of for both games 6pm). Portwood said: “This weekend will be a good test and show where we are right now against two of the country’s top sides. I’ve actually had experience of playing against two of Sheffield’s new signings, Gord Baldwin and Stefan Meyer, and they’re both top-notch players.
“As far as we’re concerned I still think we have a way to go until we show how good a team we can be, we just need to play our game and, as we proved last year, if we do that anything can happen.
“Earlier in the week we were all out at (Capitals co-owner) Matthew Tailford’s farm for a pig roast. It was great to get to know the new guys on the team, have a couple of drinks and just enjoy each other’s company. That kind of stuff is important and not only helps the team gel off the ice, but on the ice as well.”
Capitals are still awaiting the arrival of big summer signing Les Reaney. The Canadian expects to receive his visa paperwork today and, depending on flights, could still play a part at some point this weekend. Portwood is looking forward to seeing his compatriot in action and believes that both Reaney and new Czech forward Tomas Horna, who played while nursing flu in last week’s 5-0 loss to Belfast Giants before missing Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Fife Flyers, will make a difference.
Portwood continued: “I don’t think we’ll know how good a team we’ll be until everybody gets here or is fully fit. I thought last week we actually played a pretty good game in Belfast, and against Fife we were missing Tomas (Horna), and then I picked up an injury. We just couldn’t find the back of the net.” Indeed Portwood, who rarely seems to finish a game without some form of bloody nose or black eye, was missed when he was forced to leave the ice with a facial injury, but the combative winger, a fan favourite for his physical style of play, was pleased to announce he will be back in the line-up.
He said: “It’s fine, I took a slash to the nose and the doctor wouldn’t let me back out on to the ice until the bleeding had stopped, which didn’t happen until the end of the game. Even when I played at a young age I was always getting nicks or bruises, I don’t know why. I guess it’s just the style of game I play, I’m always in the corners where the sticks are flying. It’s just part of the game and the girls like the scars, right?”
Tomorrow’s opponents Sheffield will themselves be looking for a comprehensive performance to reassure their own fans after last week’s 4-1 home reverse against Edinburgh’s Sunday opponents, and last season’s treble winners, Nottingham. It was a disappointing behind-the-bench home debut for new Steelers coach Doug Christiansen, the ex-Capitals player-coach who arrived in the summer from Belfast Giants.
Christiansen, whose side also travel to Tayside on Sunday night to tackle Capitals’ conference rivals Dundee Stars, said: “Last season my team in Belfast lost the league because we didn’t have success against the smaller teams. We need to be 100 per cent focused on taking maximum points this weekend.”