Edinburgh Capitals defenceman Michael D’Orazio has warned his team-mates to expect a baptism of fire when they get the new ice hockey season up and running with a Challenge Cup group match against fierce rivals Fife Flyers tomorrow.
Kirkcaldy’s Fife Ice Arena has been a notoriously difficult place for Edinburgh over the years, a trend that was bucked last season. Having waited three years for success the other side of Forth, Edinburgh picked up three wins in five visits.
D’Orazio, one of only eight players remaining at the club from last season, believes the match will be a real eye-opener for the 14 players making their Caps debut. He said: “We talked about that (playing in the Fife Ice Arena). It’s going to be interesting for a lot of our guys to play their first game in Fife. It will be a great atmosphere. I’m curious to see their faces when they come out on the ice because the fans are right on top of you. I’ve let them know how big the rivalry is and how much our fans hate the Fife Flyers.
“It helps guys before they get into it, that myself, and British players like Kinger (Jay King) who’ve been here a lot longer, have played there before and we can pass on our experiences.”
With the addition of Milton Keynes Lightning and Guildford Flames bringing the Elite League up to 12 teams, the Challenge Cup – one of the three major titles played for each season – has changed from two qualifying groups of five teams into three groups of four. Dundee Stars and Belfast Giants, who Edinburgh play at Murrayfield on Sunday (face-off 6pm), complete the group with teams playing each other home and away. The top two in each group are guaranteed a quarter-final spot.
With Edinburgh and Fife both playing their first competitive game tomorrow – the start of their seasons delayed by last weekend’s Scottish Cup – Belfast, under new head-coach Adam Keefe, have, by their own high standards, had a poor start to the season. Losing their opening Challenge Cup game away to Dundee, and being well beaten in the league by Milton Keynes, their solitary win came against Guildford in Belfast last weekend.
Caps rounded off the inaugural Scottish Cup and their pre-season with a 3-0 win over Dundee at Murrayfield last weekend, and D’Orazio admits he does not know what to expect from Belfast on Sunday. However, Edinburgh must make their home advantage count, something the club struggled to do last year when winning only 11 games in all competitions on home ice.
D’Orazio said: “Last Sunday was a great way to end the pre-season, a big positive. Our goaltender (Pavel Shegalo) played very well. It’s good for him to end last week on a high.
“Belfast is a new team that we haven’t seen yet, so there will be a bit of a feeling-out process. We should be able to play with any team in the league. We just need to put the puck in the net and take care of our own end. We have home ice, and our team have played a few games here already and that’s something we need to take advantage of.”
D’Orazio, now in his second season at Murrayfield, believes Edinburgh will eventually reap the benefits of the experience of new head coach Dmitri Khristich, who this summer replaced Michal Dobron at the helm. The Ukrainian, who spent the majority of his playing career in the NHL, looks to be already making his mark and has increased on-ice training time in a very busy first two weeks for everybody involved with the club.
“We’re been pretty busy this week, working on our D-zone coverage, break-outs, fore-check, systems – the whole works,” said D’Orazio.
“We’re a new team, we still have a lot of work to do, and have Pav (last season’s top scorer Pavel Vorobyev still awaiting a decision on his work visa) to come in. It’s a work in progress but we feel good right now.
“New coach, new tactics, things are pretty much totally different, and I think for the better. We’ll see how we go this weekend and go from there.”