By Kris Smith
The Stars round off their first week of preseason preparations with two exhibition matches against last season’s league and cup winners and new Head Coach, Jeff Mason is simply looking for his team to show progress.
There are a number of new faces in this year’s squad but they have already joined the returning core of players in chasing the goal of bettering last season’s playoff semi-final appearance.
Dundee did manage to retain the services of seven players, including Canadian forward, Philippe Sanche who was the team’s third-highest point scorer in the past campaign.
They have also added a few players who spent the past year competing against the Stars in the Elite League, such as Guildford Flames duo, Mac Howlett and Chris Gerrie, and Fife Flyers defenseman, Erik Näslund.
Meanwhile, over in Belfast, Adam Keefe has kept a hold of 14 members of his double trophy winning side, with key names such as David Goodwin, Ben Lake, Kevin Raine and Jackson Whistle remaining in Northern Ireland for another year.
Last weekend saw the Giants beat the 2022 Playoff Champions, Cardiff Devils in consecutive games as they were 3-1 victors in the Welsh capital last Friday, before claiming a 5-1 win on home ice.
There were seven different scorers of the Belfast goals with only Ciaran Long netting a double and the goaltending duties were split between Peyton Jones and Whistle.
The Stars are likely to ice a full line-up but are still waiting for the final members of their squad to arrive in Scotland, whereas the Giants will be carrying a few extra bodies as part of the Champions Hockey League preparation.
Speaking before his first game as a Head Coach, Mason set out his expectations for the weekend and said: “This weekend is about trying to execute the systems that we are putting in place and guys building chemistry and familiarity with each other.
“Hopefully we play well and I expect the guy to compete hard, it is a competitive match but the most important thing is for guys to build that chemistry and to execute the systems.
“So, there will be plenty of mistakes made as guys try to learn and implement some new things that they are maybe not too familiar with and we have only really had a couple days of practice to really get into the systems-type stuff.
“It will be a work in progress but I expect the guys to play hard and I thought we looked good in practice.
“Each day we built a little bit more and you could see that the guys were getting their feet and hands under themselves a bit more every day and I am excited to see this group together and to see what they can do on the ice.”
The former Giants assistant-coach takes the Stars to his old office and is not anticipating an easy game, Mason added: “Certainly, Belfast will be a tough test but it will be good for us to see ourselves against the cream of the crop in the league, right off the bat, to know the level we have to be at, if we want to be one of the best teams in the league.”
The American Coach also shared what he will demand from his team in every game, starting from Saturday night in Belfast.
“I want to see them execute the type of game that we want to play every night, which is that we want to be aggressive and we want to limit teams time and space”, explained Jeff.
He continued: “We do not want to give guys free looks in our house and we want to work to get to the scoring areas in the offensive zone.
“So, I want to see that regardless of who we play and Belfast will be a tough test, they played well last weekend and showed they have a lot of speed.
“They are an aggressive team as well and they will put us under heavy pressure, so it will be a good test to see where we are at and the things that we are doing well already and areas that we will need to improve on.”
Welsh netminder, Brython Preece is set to be the starting shot-stopper for this weekend’s double header with Belfast and discussing the opportunity to impress his new coach early on, he said: “I came in at the start of this week and have a had a solid week of practice to build the confidence up from last season.
“It is just another game, but maybe a bit of a challenge in front of a new coach but that is something that I will enjoy.”
The 24-year-old keeper also outlined how the Stars are approaching this weekend, as well as his first thoughts on this year’s squad.
Brython added: “The boys have had a good week of practice and built up their confidence too over the last five days.
“So, we just have to keep building that up and keep doing the simple things right and hopefully we will get the result we want.
“So far it is looking good, the boys are clicking quite early and as I said, there is a lot of confidence in this group and it is a good group of guys, so we want to get ball rolling early here and start our season off the right way.”
Tonight’s game in Belfast will face-off at 7pm.