Ice hockey: Caps in ‘most-exciting’ playoff hunt

Edinburgh Capitals managing director Scott Neil. Picture: Jane Barlow
Edinburgh Capitals managing director Scott Neil. Picture: Jane Barlow
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YOU’RE on a good run of form, there are only eight games of the ice hockey season to go, and you’re embroiled in a four-way play-off battle with teams all considered your fiercest rivals. It’s no wonder team owner Scott Neil believes this is one of the most exciting years in Edinburgh Capitals’ history.

And, as the Caps prepare for their only game of the weekend – against Coventry Blaze at Murrayfield tomorrow (face-off 6pm), the second in a run of five straight games against the league’s top sides – Neil enthused: “It’s the most exciting race that we’ve been involved in, but regardless of whether we make it or not, the most important thing is we’re playing good hockey.

“When we’re playing well we play a very attractive game. This season, the guys have supplied our fans with some good performances, and given them some encouragement and heart, and the way we’ve been playing recently we have the potential to beat any team in the league.

“We’ve got a good group of guys who are giving their all. Yes, we’ve lost games, and had some bad performances along the way, but all credit to them, when they’ve had a howler they’ve come back and done the business next time out.”

Last Sunday, in the reverse fixture, Blaze, coached by former Team GB boss Paul Thomson, scored a late goal for a 3-2 victory and halted Capitals’ four-game winning streak.

The result, in the most complex play-off battle in Elite League history, left Edinburgh level on 38 points alongside the three other Scottish teams in the competition, Fife Flyers, Dundee Stars, and Braehead Clan, along with bottom club Hull Stingrays, who are a further five points adrift, all battling it out for three play-off spots.

Due to having played at least one more game than each of their rivals, Edinburgh, along with Hull, are the betting man’s favourites to miss out but, with two matches still to play against both Dundee and Fife, the potential is there for a winner-takes-all decider when Edinburgh host Dundee on the last day of the season.

Neil said: “This year has proved to be very competitive and I’m hoping it’s going to be a battle right down until the last game. We will need to pick up points along the way and, if we do, it’s going to go right down to the wire.

“It has given everyone involved with the club a lift, including our young British players. It has given them something to fight for and it has been a steep learning curve and a good experience for them.”

Neil does not hide from the fact that at times in the past three years it has been tough to be a Capitals fan, especially when the club came within a whisker of going to the wall during a disastrous 2010-11 campaign. As they continue to rebuild, this season – play-offs or not – has done much to restore confidence in the eyes of both the Capitals fans and the league as a whole.

Neil concluded: “We’ve come a long way since then and we’ve got a good opportunity to move forward again next year. We’re not going to be taking big leaps, but small steps, and try to build things up as securely as possible, as we look to be even more competitive next season.

“We just want to keep building up confidence with our fan-base, players, and everyone involved with the club. If we have another couple of years building in this manner we are going to be a team to beat.”

For tomorrow’s Coventry clash, Edinburgh are sweating on the fitness of leading goalscorer Rene Jarolin, who picked up an injury during last week’s match against the two sides and failed to ice in the third ­period. The Slovakian would be missed because he has scored 29 times this season.