SCOTT NEIL, the owner of Edinburgh Capitals ice hockey team, has issued a rallying call to fans ahead of their crunch Elite League match with the Braehead Clan tomorrow at Murrayfield (face-off 6.00pm).
His struggling side, winless in 11 games, still hold on to eighth place and a three-point advantage over Dundee Stars in the race for the play-offs.
Neil, who as a player won every top honour in British ice hockey, believes support from the stands can help Edinburgh mount a strong finish to the season, and help finance plans as the Capitals prepare to put together “one of their strongest-ever teams” for next year’s campaign.
Neil said: “From the start of the season, our goal was to make a play-off place and, in many ways, we’ve put ourselves in a good position to do that. We were way out in front for a while, but I always thought that at some point we’d be put under pressure from Dundee and Fife and it’s how we respond to that. We’re still points ahead, and we have some games in hand, we’ve got some young players in our team and we just need to rally round them.
“I’ve been in this position many times as a player, we want them to stay focused and positive, we’ve played well at different times this season and we just need to get back to winning games again.”
Caps fans were left shaking their heads after last weekend’s two home defeats – a 6-3 reverse against Dundee Stars followed by a 9-0 mauling from Nottingham Panthers on Sunday – and Neil can understand the fans’ frustration.
He said: “We were all hoping we could knock Dundee off last Saturday, and we were all disappointed. I think that disappointment hung over us in the performance against Nottingham and contributed to the result. The bottom line is, and anyone involved in any sports club will know, you can’t afford to let your head go down, we’ve still got five more weeks of hockey and 12 more games to play [until the end of the season]. If we go into that dejected or dismayed, Dundee will catch us up.
“We’ve got to be looking at catching the team ahead of us rather than looking at what’s behind us. I’m confident we can turn this around and pick up some wins along the way.”
Capitals’ management have often been criticised in previous years for failing to prepare in good time for the season ahead, but now they have made a concerted effort to reverse this trend by extending the contracts of player/coach Richard Hartmann, and fans’ favourite Rene Jarolin. For Neil this season has always been about building strong foundations for the longer-term future of the club.
Neil explained: “For the first time, we’ve gone and secured the services of arguably our two best players for next season. Richard is a good coach and will become even better, I’ve no doubt about that. He’s won a lot of respect from a lot of people in the time he’s been here, and in Rene we’ve got someone who potentially this year will be the league’s top goal-scorer.
“Richard will be staying in Edinburgh over the summer and will be putting in place and overseeing the off-season training programme for our British players. We’ll be able to work together closely in recruitment and put together what I hope will be one of our strongest-ever teams.
“I’ve never tried to kid anyone on, we’ve put together a team this year that we’ve set goals for, and we’ve stayed loyal to the guys that have all worked so hard to put us in a position to achieve them.
“I’m confident we will develop and be stronger, and all the support fans can give will help create 30 weeks of hockey next year.”