Tony Hand promises ‘night to celebrate’ as Murrayfield Racers prepare to be crowned SNL champions

Joel Gautschi, pictured scoring for Racers, is relishing the end-of-season play-offs. Pic: Ian Coyle
Joel Gautschi, pictured scoring for Racers, is relishing the end-of-season play-offs. Pic: Ian Coyle
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Director of hockey Tony Hand has promised “a night to celebrate” when Murrayfield Racers are crowned Scottish National League champions following their match at home to Kilmarnock Thunder on Sunday (face-off 6pm).

The club are inviting fans to join the team post-game for a chance to have their photo taken with players and the SNL league trophy.

It’s a first championship for the club formed just last summer and, after failing in an ambitious bid to replace previous Murrayfield Ice Rink tenants Edinburgh Capitals in the British Elite League, Racers have taken the top level of amateur ice hockey in Scotland by storm and could win as many as four trophies in their debut year.

Racers had the title in the bag two weeks ago following Scottish Cup semi-final opponents Kirkcaldy Kestrels’ league defeat at Aberdeen Lynx.

And, as they prepare for their final league game of the season against Thunder on Sunday, Hand said: “It will be a night to celebrate, especially knowing we’ve won it before the game.

“It’s not just about the Racers – this is for the fans and the ice rink. It’s been a combined effort from all of us to try and win and it will be nice for us to all be rewarded with the trophy presentation following the game.

“We have a great rapport with the fans and we’re looking forward to them coming along and celebrating with the team.

“This is our first year. We’ve had a lot of people following us from day one and we invite everyone to join us in the rink bar after the game to have their photos taken with the guys and celebrate this with us.”

While the league campaign may have drawn to a close for the Racers, the season looks likely to stretch on into May with a Scottish Cup final appearance in the offing providing they don’t let a huge six-goal lead slip in the upcoming second leg of their semi-final with Kirkcaldy.

The club have already booked their place in next month’s Stuart Robertson Cup final against North Ayrshire Wild – and the end-of-season play-offs which begin in two weeks time.

Hand continued: “Next week we’ve the semi-final of the Scottish Cup and then the week after our play-off quarter-final with Solway, and then a couple of finals after that. Even though the season may be drawing to a close, we still have an awful lot to play for, which is nice, because it’s always a long summer once it’s over.”

Hand’s thoughts were echoed by Racers team captain Joel Gautschi, who admitted the play-off finals to be held later this month at Dundee Ice Arena would be the icing on the cake to what has already been a successful season for the club.

Gautschi, who won the play-off final as part of the treble-winning Edinburgh Capitals SNL team of 2013-14, said: “It would have been nice to win the league trophy by beating a team on the night but, with Kirkcaldy losing the other week, that’s not how it panned out. But, of course, it’s always nice to win a trophy. I’m looking forward to Sunday and the fans will love it as well.”

Asked to compare this year’s Racers team to the Capitals squad that enjoyed so much success at the same level five years ago, the 28-year-old forward continued: “It’s a wee bit different. I think this year we have an even better squad so we should be able to do all right. We still have three more trophies to play for. If we can keep up this form, hopefully we can bring them all home. For me, personally, the play-ofs are even more special, and the play-off final weekend is always really competitive. It’s knock-out hockey and anything can happen. That’s the one I really want to win.”