Edinburgh Capitals General Manager Scott Neil is happy with how the new look Capitals are shaping up but refused to be drawn on specific targets for the year ahead, insisting that they will simply be targeting to win every time they take to the ice. The Murrayfield based side begin their 2016/17 Elite League season this Sunday when they host the Dundee Stars in the Challenge Cup.
After a promising start to last season, injuries, loss of form and the departures of key imports left a hole in the Capitals roster that the team struggled to overcome. One major positive, however, was the additional ice time that the side’s British contingent were able to gain, including defencemen Jay King and Tyler Plews who promise to be key fixtures again this season.
While eight of the 10 sides in the league qualify for the end of season play-offs, the margins are growing smaller all the time and this season has the potential to be one of the closest in years. A big part of the Elite League’s improvements on and off the ice is player recruitment and this off-season has seen some high profile names move to the UK.
Edinburgh’s Gardiner Conference rivals, the Fife Flyers and Braehead Clan, have recruited well. Fife secured the signing of former Stanley Cup winner Ric Jackman who swapped Glasgow for Kirkcaldy, while Braehead added former Philadelphia Flyers winger Jay Rosehill and ex-NHLer Jeff Ulmer.
Meanwhile in the Erhardt Conference, the Cardiff Devils made a statement of their own landing former Colorado Avalanche enforcer Patrick Bordeleau in one of the biggest moves of the off-season.
But Neil believes every side in the league have improved so the only thing we should expect to see is competitive hockey every week.
“I believe we should just go out and try and win every game we play. We want to compete, we want to win and winning silverware is the ultimate goal,” said Neil. “The rest of the league look very strong also and I think we will see a number of closely contested games – it is always difficult to predict results. As a club we are doing all we can to develop and promote Capitals Ice Hockey in Edinburgh and I am sure we can provide some exciting and value for money games.”
It is no exaggeration to say that the club were at a low ebb at the end of last season. They battled hard but finished bottom of both the Gardiner Conference and the Elite League, finishing in 10th place, having found themselves in play-off contention at the turn of the year. To make matters worse, player/coach Riley Emmerson stepped aside after just one season in charge leaving a coaching vacuum for Neil to fill.
The club acted quickly, however, drawing up a shortlist and then eventually settling on an individual who needs no introduction to Capitals fans in Michal Dobron. The Czech defenceman played for the club between 2012 and 2014 and had been coaching a junior team back in the Czech Republic. He returns to the Scottish capital as player/coach.
“Michal comes with a vast amount of top Czech league playing experience and has one of the highest coaching certificates in the world,” said Neil. “He is a fan favourite and a great player who will demand the best from his players. There were a number of other people in the frame but when Michal showed an interest he quickly became the front runner. I already knew he was a great player but I was further impressed when he informed me of his coaching experience and level of coaching certificate that he was undertaking.”
The Capitals have recruited strongly bringing in a handful of first year professionals and even adding two players with NHL experience in Russian forward Pavel Vorobyov, who skated 57 times for the Chicago Blackhawks, and former Carolina Hurricanes winger Jared Staal. The club also added 35-year-old Russian centre Yevgeni Fyodorov, drafted by the LA Kings in 2000, and Ian Schultz who was selected by the St Louis Blues in 2008.
Perhaps even more significant given the high turnover of rosters from season to season is the fact that the club managed to tie down two imports from last campaign in Garrett Milan and popular defenceman Jacob Johnston, the latter who impressed before succumbing to a season-ending injury.
A strong off-season of recruitment has certainly helped reignite the feel good factor ahead of the new campaign and Neil insisted he is delighted with how things have transpired on the transfer front. The club recently completed their roster with the capture of defenceman Rihards Grigors. The Latvian featured for the Capitals against the Dundee Stars in pre-season and had been on trial with the team.
“I am happy with the way the signings have gone this season and think we have a good blend of skill, experience and grit,” Neil told me. “There are some high pedigree players mixed in with some top quality first year professionals and I am hopeful that the team will come together quickly and produce results from the opening game on the 11th September.”
The number of imports that can ice on any given matchday has been increased to 14 for this season, but there is nothing to stop bigger budget sides accommodating more than 14 in their squads. Neil believes teams should prioritise using their domestic contingent when injury strikes rather than stocking up on overseas players.
“I personally believe teams should be made to use locally developed talent in the event of injury to import players. It will provide a development platform and a little bit more of a level playing field in terms of competitive games,” Neil said. “The Capitals suffered badly on the injury front last year and found it difficult to compete with teams who had up to 18 imports on their roster.”
What is clear, however, is the pride the Capitals have in strengthening their ties to both the local community more generally and in providing opportunities for young British players to step up to Elite League level. Last year the likes of Sean Beattie, alongside the aforementioned King and Plews saw significant ice time, while Michael Ireland skated in six games.
This off-season also saw the appointment of club legend, Martin Cingel, to the role of Edinburgh Capitals Scottish National League (SNL) coach, charged with continuing the development of the British contingent to provide a conveyor belt of talent for use in the Elite League. The club added two more Brits this summer in Liam Cassidy and Harry Ferguson but lost Callum Boyd to bitter rivals Braehead Clan. Neil reiterated that an emphasis on a core group of British players is a top priority.
“We want to show commitment and belief to our younger British players and help them develop and prosper. The Elite League is getting increasingly difficult for British players to make the grade but we are determined to help provide a platform and pathway for British players and that will always be an ethos for the club. I liked Callum a lot and wish him every success [at Braehead] but only time will tell if it was the correct move for him.”
After a long and, at times, hectic off-season, the puck will finally drop this weekend when the Capitals look to begin their Challenge Cup campaign with a win. The Capitals were beaten 4-2 at Dundee and 6-2 at home against the same opposition to conclude their pre-season last weekend.
And the Capitals General Manager reserved his final words for the Edinburgh Capitals supporters ahead of the Stars clash.
“If we all work together we will eventually succeed,” said Neil in a message aimed at the fans. “They are an important part of the team along with the players on the ice and I thank them for their continued support.”
Edinburgh Capitals begin their 2016/17 Elite League campaign this Sunday (11th) at home to the Dundee Stars in the Challenge Cup, with a face-off time of 6pm at Murrayfield Ice Rink.
Photo credit: DavidgSteadman