Stars out of this world
If you’d told Omar Pacha he and his Dundee Stars team would qualify from their Challenge Cup group with five wins from six, he’d have either laughed at you before ripping your arm off for it.
And that’s exactly what’s happened after a four point Challenge Cup weekend that sees the Stars progress to the last eight as group winners and will get the chance to pick their quarter final opponent.
Their record this year sees them three points better off than they were a year ago and while the league results let them down a little bit, there’s definite a body of evidence that they could be in for a better season.
They had six Challenge Cup points in their first five games and scraped into the quarter finals 12 months ago, while picking up six points from seven games, three of those spares after overtime or penalty shots losses.
Stars went through a phase at the start of last season when they were losing games after the regulation 60 and although getting a point was something, they were still losses.
The interviews with Pacha made you want to reach into the screen and give him a hug as the frustration showed at coming up short once again.
Contrast it to a year later and his smile tells you all you need to know about the pride he has in his team right now as they secured their last eight place with a game to spare.
Five wins out of six, winning all of their away games and, as group winners, the chance to pick who they get to play in the quarter finals.
Not to mention home and away wins over the holders and current league champions Belfast Giants and you have what can only be described as a great start to the new campaign.
But what’s changed from the team that came up short last season to the team that has blitzed through the group stages and made a steady start?
I saw Dundee Stars at the start of the season and was impressed by their front lines, which showed great speed, a more clinical edge and more of a threat going forward.
I wanted to find out more so I put a question on Twitter asking what’s changed about this team from last season and why they have been more successful so far.
While there were a few different reasons given as a response, the main improvements seem to have been in goal, where Alex Leclerc has shown to be a terrific signing so far.
Significant upgrades in the team in defence in particular and more of a physicality on the forecheck as well as point scorers were also noted, which is why the Stars have more of a cutting edge to them.
Whether it can be sustained for the remainder of the season is quite something else we’ll have to wait for, but the signs are good. Stars for the play-offs after missing the last two years? I wouldn’t bet against it on current form.
Panthers and Storm feel the heat
While it’s going well for Dundee Stars and Glasgow Clan, Nottingham Panthers and Manchester Storm are on the other end of the scale and the mood around the fans of these clubs isn’t positive.
Both have one win in their last six and after another weekend of frustration for both teams, the fixtures aren’t looking too kind for them in the weeks ahead.
It’s important to remember there’s an imbalance in the Challenge Cup group with Storm playing only three games and Steelers with five.
Plus in the league, two points separate second from bottom so it’s likely we’ll see scenarios where a couple of wins will put them right up there again.
There’s been a lot of changes at both clubs so it’s tempting to write teams off already, but we’ll see a season like no other and like their fellow EIHL competitors, they’ll have their ups and downs.
But results will have to come soon and while, on paper, the games to come won’t be kind, there’s nothing to say they won’t win and start building a run. Have patience.
Big week for CHL sides
In among all the domestic goings on, it’s hard to believe the Champions Hockey League has crept up on us again as Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils get set to rejoin the Euro party.
As the country looks to leave Europe by the end of October, both Adam Keefe and Andrew Lord will look for their sides to still be involved.
Belfast look to be all but out and unless they can beat Swedish side Lulea over both games, their interest will only go as far as the end of the group stage.
As for Cardiff, it’s a massive opportunity for them to upset another Swedish side in Frolunda, who happen to be the holders of the CHL no less and a win will see them into the last 16.
Beating a top side from the SHL is not unusual, but having to do it over there will take a lot of effort and if they can replicate their earlier form, anything’s possible.
Let’s hope they can and really fly the Elite League flag in this excellent competition.