Edinburgh Capitals bench coach Jock Hay believes the club are benefiting from the “big end-product” of team captain Jade Portwood.
Caps will look to continue their great run of form when they entertain Belfast Giants at Murrayfield on Sunday (face-off 5.45pm).
Portwood, in his third year with the club after arriving straight out of American college hockey, currently has the hot hand in front of goal and, if he finds the net in Edinburgh’s only game of the weekend, will be the first Elite League player this season to have scored in six straight games.
“When Jade first came over here,” recalls Hay, “he was always great on the boards, and that’s still the best part of his game but he’s stronger and wiser now, he gets into better positions and, as well as scoring, he’s setting up chances for team-mates. Now he has a big end-product and we’re seeing the benefits of that.
“He’s terrific in the corners and behind the net – what we like to call the ‘dirty areas’. It’s tough to play there, it’s where the game is at its most physical, but he seems to thrive on it and that’s where he sets up most of his opportunities.”
Portwood, with 13 goals already this term, has eclipsed the ten he managed in both of his first two seasons with the Caps. While on course for what could be a career high, Hay believes the credit must be shared with his line-mates Dennis Rix and Greg Collins. “The three of them work well together,” continued Hay. “Rix and Collins are similar players in that they’re quick and skilful. They had a bit of a problem at the beginning of the season. The two of them liked to skate to the same areas and ended up getting in one another’s way. You can see they’ve sorted that out now and along with Jade have formed a really good line.
“Rixy and Greg take up a lot of attention with their skill and Jade has the power to get to the front of the net capitalising on rebounds or quick passes. They’ve scored a lot of goals that way.”
Despite Edinburgh’s great run, including wins over high-fliers Nottingham Panthers and Wednesday’s 4-2 success away to Gardiner Conference leaders Braehead Clan, Hay still believes Caps can look at matches against the bigger budget Elite League teams, such as Sunday’s opponents Belfast, almost as bonus games in their battle to achieve an end-of-season play-off spot.
Hay added: “We’ve been winning a lot of games, but still when we go up against the likes of Belfast, Nottingham or Braehead, nobody outside of the players or our fans expects us to come out on top.
“Points we pick against these teams can be looked at almost like bonuses, and could be very important to us at the end of the season.
“Whether we play at home or away, we play a very similar style of game. But at Murrayfield, to be successful we try hard to use the width of the big ice. Other teams just aren’t used to it and it’s scuppered a fair few of them.”
Caps revealed they are sweating on the availability of three players ahead of Sunday’s clash. Both Rix and Loren Barron are doubtful after picking up knocks last time out at Braehead, and tough guy Riley Emmerson could miss out through suspension pending a review by the league’s Department of Player Safety after his game-penalty for a check from behind on Clan forward Matt Haywood.