By Kris Smith
The Kitmart Dundee Stars are in need of a bounce-back win against the Manchester Storm this Saturday after two defeats last week.
The Stars have slipped down to 10th place in the Elite League standings after they were beaten in Manchester last Wednesday before losing again in Kirkcaldy on Saturday.
Dundee are hungry to return to the Storm Shelter and come away with the two points and that would be enough to lift them above the Storm and potentially back into the play-off spots, dependant on other results.
Omar Pacha’s Stars still have two games in hand on Manchester but games are coming thick and fast for the Taysiders. With just one win in four games against the Storm this season, and it came at home, the odds are not in Dundee’s favour for their final trip to Altrincham.
Stars last outing was against Fife Flyers last Saturday and despite handing the Flyers a 3-0 lead before the halfway point, Omar Pacha stepped-up and led his short-benched side back to level terms. The player-coach netted his first of the season, followed by strikes from Lukas Lundvald and Fabrizio Ricci. A late goal from Fife sunk Dundee’s hopes of another remarkable win in Kirkcaldy.
Ryan Finnerty’s side have won their last two home games as they bounced-back from a 4-3 loss to the Lightning in Milton Keynes with a 5-4 win over Sheffield Steelers last Sunday.
Luke Moffatt and Ciaran Long both netted braces before Mike Hammond scored the winner.
Against Sheffield, the Storm were without; Liam Morris, Linden Springer, Ashely Smith, Duncan Speirs, Chris Auger, Lee Boner and Evan Richardson. However, Springer has now completed his five-game suspension and will be eligible to face the Stars.
Meanwhile, Dundee were without Connor Cox, Mike Sullivan, Petr Chaloupka and the indefinitely injured, François Bouchard against Fife.
Two Stars players have strung together small point-streaks as Matt Marquardt has scored eight points in five games and Charles Corcoran has three in three.
Dundee netminder, Pontus Sjögren is upbeat and confident of Dundee’s chances in Manchester despite still being short a few bodies.
He said: “We have a good chance of winning in Manchester on Saturday, so if we stick to the game plan, we will have a good chance.
“It is always tough to suffer injuries, we are already a small squad and with people gone, it has of course affected us.
“We have done well based on the conditions and given ourselves a chance to win every match but of course we become a bigger threat with a full squad.”
However, Sjögren and Dundee were given positive news on Thursday as it was confirmed Chaloupka and Sullivan had passed medicals, allowing them to return to active duty after recovering from facial injuries.
Even with a pair of players still missing, a disciplined and structured defence will be the key to winning, according to the Swede.
Sjögren added: “The defence game is the key, as always.
“We are most successful when we play a strict defensive game and do not give up any dangerous chances to the other team.
“Offensively we are always dangerous.”
The veteran goalie is used to these tight play-off races that go down to the wire and he expects it to go all the way.
He said: “One year it was decided in the last round if my team would go to playoffs, no man’s land or relegation but this year is really tight and I’m sure it will be settled in the last games, this year.”
Stars head coach, Omar Pacha is hoping a team performance in Manchester will cut out any individual errors and help them to a much needed win.
He said: “We outplayed them but we just didn’t get any bounces or puck luck and we made some stupid mistakes at costly times.
“So if we were able to play our game and try to be a strong defensive unit and not make those individual mistakes that cost us, we will be fine.”
The Canadian knows the gap is tiny and that his players are committed to getting back into the top eight.
Omar added: “It is still one point.
“You can go up and down, you win a few and you are looking at sixth but slip-up and you are looking at 10th.
“We have been fortunate throughout the season to be in the top eight but now we are not, so we just have to get ourselves back into it.
“As I have said before I have a lot to work with because I have a good team that works hard and buys in and if you have that then you have a good chance of getting a team into that top eight.”
The return of Sullivan and Chaloupka will be a big boost for Stars but Pacha stressed the importance of staying healthy in the final stretch.
He added: “It is huge but now we need to stay healthy.
“We have been having injuries all season and it is frustrating, especially when you are not bringing guys in.
“It leaves you having to juggle the line-up and when you lose your best offensive player, it is frustrating because we have a good team but that is just out of your control.
“I like how some guys stepped up in different situations throughout the season but now we need guys to stay healthy and push us to the final eight.”
There could potentially be another big lift for Dundee as the head coach said Connor Cox could be cleared in time for this weekend’s games.
Pacha added: “There is a possibility of Cox coming back too.
“I have said it a million times, when we have six D, we play so much better and we are a good hockey team when we are playing six at the back.
“I think it is when we go down to four or five, we don’t see the best out of our six.
“Hopefully at six, we get enough rest and guys aren’t playing too much and we get guys competing every single shift at 100 per cent rather than kind of slowing down to save energy.
Pacha also confirmed he will be suiting up instead of lacing up this weekend.
“That is good if we have Cox back and if not, I think with Mike and Petr back, I will be more effective from behind the bench,” he said.
Saturday’s game faces-off at 7pm.