By Kris Smith
Stars travel to the West Midlands for the first time this weekend as they aim to regain their form from earlier this season.
“Hitting the reset button” was the message from Omar Pacha to his players during this week’s preparations for the upcoming games. The Kitmart Dundee Stars face Coventry Blaze for the first time this season at the Skydome Arena tonight.
Blaze sit sixth in the Elite League standings and are seven points ahead of Stars, who have played one more game. Danny Stewart’s side are currently on a three-game losing streak, so far this month Coventry have beaten Cardiff Devils 6-4 on the road. However, their fortunes turned with a 6-5 overtime loss at home to Fife Flyers before back to back defeats to Glasgow Clan last weekend.
It started with a 5-4 overtime loss for Coventry in Braehead despite goals from Alex Nikiforuk, Kelin Ainsworth, Chris Joyaux and Justin Hache. The reverse fixture in Coventry seen the Clan take a 4-2 win with Nikiforuk on the scoresheet again, as well as Tim Crowder.
Nikiforuk notched four points last weekend with Crowder and Hache each putting up three points.
Nikiforuk, a former Nottingham Panther, leads the Blaze in scoring with seven goals and 15 assists from 15 league matches. Tim, the brother of Fife’s Paul Crowder, trails him by one point with 21. Hache is their highest scoring defenceman with four goals and nine helpers in the league.
Goaltending has been a headache for Stewart right from the start of the season after last season’s starting netminder Kevin Nastiuk had to be released from his contract due to a medical issue, after re-signing in the summer. Miika Wiikman was brought into to replace Nastiuk but after making just a few appearances, he picked-up an injury and that forced the Coventry head coach to act swiftly and bring in Miroslav Kopriva.
The Czech native played 10 games before departing earlier this week after picking up an injury. Wiikman made his return last weekend and is predicted to start against Dundee on Saturday.
This month also seen Danny Stewart add free agent and Czech forward, Dominik Florian to his squad.
Blaze were victorious in three of four meetings last season with Omar Pacha’s side last season. A Riley Stadel hat-trick secured a 3-2 overtime win for Dundee in the West Midlands but it was a 7-3 loss at the Skydome plus a 4-2 and 2-1 overtime loss in the other matches.
Edward Knaggs, Oliver Lord, Matthew Maurice, Joshua Crane, Ross Venus and Shawn Pauly did not ice for Coventry in either matches last weekend.
Looking to the first match against Coventry this weekend, former Blaze player Matt Marquardt said: “They are a proud organisation and it is a tough building to go and play in.
“We are just looking to get some points here and we are excited for every game that comes our way.
“Coventry is an exciting place to play and it is a big game, so I am looking forward to it.”
After a few disappointing losses for Stars, the winger says believing will be key. Matt added: “We just need to stick with our systems, believe in each other and believe in the systems.
“We have had some tough luck this year and after a tough week of practice and video sessions, we see that there is a certain way that we have to play in order to be successful.
“At the same time, realising that we cannot get away with playing our own game or getting off being on our own page.
“We just have to stick to the game plan, work hard and stick together.”
When asked what he expects to see from a new Coventry side that they have not faced yet, Matt replied: “We are quite a different team too from last year, I have played for Danny Stewart, he is a very good coach.
“He preaches hard work, they are always a tough team to play against and this year they are doing really well in the standings right now.
“They are a team we are looking to catch but Danny is a really good coach so they will have a good game plan.
“We just have to go in stick to ours and worry about our game and try and come out with two points.”
Tonight’s game will face-off at 7pm.