Scottish Elite Cup: Rivals go head to head

Charlie Mosey, Fife Flyers (Pic: Steve Gunn)
Charlie Mosey, Fife Flyers (Pic: Steve Gunn)

There isn’t just silverware on offer at this weekend’s Scottish Elite Cup.

With two semi-finals on Saturday, and a third-fourth place play-off and the final on Sunday, it’s a busy, and key, weekend for fans and players alike.

Edinburgh Capitals, 2017-18 (Pic: Ian Coyle)

Edinburgh Capitals, 2017-18 (Pic: Ian Coyle)

With all four Scottish conference challengers sharing the same ice pad at Murrayfield, it’s an early opportunity to size up the opposition and assess where your own team is currently at.

It’s certainly the most important weekend of Fife Flyers’ extended pre-season, and how they perform will be the subject of forensic analysis by the travelling support from Kirkcaldy.

It’s safe to say the jury is still out after a fortnight of warm-up games against Danish and German opposition.

While some players have started the season well, others have yet to show their true qualities. This weekend is where they will have to answer the bell.

Braehead Clan in action against Manitoba Bison (Pic: Al Goold)

Braehead Clan in action against Manitoba Bison (Pic: Al Goold)

Going head to head with Dundee Stars in the opening semi-final, and then facing either Braehead Clan or Edinburgh Capitals in their next game will allow fans to make direct comparisons between the rosters and draw their own conclusions.

So, what can they expect?

The three other Scottish clubs are all in a state of transition with new coaches at the helm still embedding their own ethos in the dressing-room, and nowhere is the change bigger than in Edinburgh.

Caps have gone down a completely different route, mixing Russian and North American hockey.

Add in a mix of exciting young home grown talent, some of it with strong roots in Fife, and their cosmopolitan squad could be the surprise package of the season. That qualified ‘could be’ is all-embracing as Caps have form for fizzling out.

Often regarded as the EIHL’s weakest link, they have shown decent progress in recent seasons, scalping all the big guns and pushing for a place in the play-offs.

It will be fascinating to see how new coach Dimitri Khristich makes his mark, and pulls together the different cultures in his dressing-room.

His CV stands out – over 800 NHL games, 637 points as a player, and a stint behind the Ukraine national team bench at the world championships of 2010.

And he has brought some experienced names to these parts – the KHL and AHL experience of six-foot, 223lb winger, Igor Voleyev, could be invaluable – as well as returnees such as Mike D’Orazio, and Rihards Grigor.

Last week’s signing of Marek Tvrdon also caught the eye; a fourth round 2011 draft pick of Detroit Redwings with solid experience in the AHL as well as the ECHL. Another forward with the potential to make his mark.

Khristich has also brought Callum Boyd back from Braehead, retained Tyler Plews for a third season – the 19-year old Fifer has demonstrated that, given a chance, young local talent can hold its own in this league – and added the Robertson siblings, Cally and Aaron, from Kirkcaldy.

Iain Robertson’s sons are highly rated, and Caps’ links to the city’s colleges, where they can further their studies, helped to seal the deal.

That tie up also brought Dylan Anderson to the club – the new forward will study at Heriot Watt – after playing in the university leagues back home. The very sort of link that Flyers have to start cultivating in order to compete for new players ...

More changes too on Tayside, but the unexpected departure of coach Marc Lefebvre halfway through building a new roster doesn’t seem to have caused too much upset – Stars still opened their campaign with a smashing win over Belfast Giants.

Dundee finished last season on a high by reaching the play-off finals weekend for the very first time, but the team that takes to the ice this weekend will bear no resemblance to the one that made that journey.

The majority of the imports are new to the UK, with a core coming out of a season with Strasbourg in France, and the NCAA, with a smattering of Swedish input.

Stars have also added Adam Harding and Taylor Dickin from Manchester Storm – Dickin is a former Edinburgh skater too – and brought local lad Jordan Cownie back from MK Lightning.

Their big signing has to be that of Chris Lawrence, the former Nottingham, Sheffield and Coventry sniper. The 30-year-old brings huge experience to the dressing-room, but has to step up his game and deliver the goals Stars need to compete.

Braehead Clan have commenced a new new era too, following the departure of coach Ryan Finnerty and a host of big names from the dressing room.

The club has set the bar for hockey in Scotland in recent seasons, and will again start as favourites to take the conference, but the owners harbour much greater ambitions – they want Clan in the title race and shooting for all silverware.

The onus to deliver falls on new coach, John Tripp, who brings a solid hockey CV to the role.

As a player he skated with LA Kings and New York Rangers in the NHL before immersing himself in the German hockey scene, first as a player and then as a coach.

His first move was to secure a wingman who knew the UK hockey scene inside out –he couldn’t have landed a better assistant than Brendan Brooks.

His return to Braehead was a big loss to Fife Flyers.

On the ice, his team has certainly got size, strength and experience, and Clan fans will be keen to see it gel quickly.

Last season’s team leaked a huge number of points on home ice which undermined its entire campaign. Making Braehead arena a tough place to visit once more has to be a priority.

Player wise, Ryan Potulny is a stand-out signing – the 32-year-old brings NHL and AHL experience, and look out for big centreman Tyler Shattock, ex-Alaska Aces skater, while the blue line will feature the tough presence of the returning Craig Cescon and Landon Oslanski.

Clan had Fife’s number throughout last season. That is something which has to change in 2017-18.

No better place to do it than the Scottish Cup should their paths cross.