NEWCASTLE Vipers have been handed a further blow to their hopes of achieving an Elite League play-off finish this season.
With a squad of only 11 players available for the weekend clashes against Edinburgh Capitals and Dundee Stars, the Vipers face an almighty challenge to overcome their Scottish rivals.
Despite the loss of six import players and five British players to injuries and commitments to other clubs, general manager Jaimie Longmuir remains optimistic the Tyneside club can salvage enough points to encourage their play-off push.
He said: “With regards to the play-offs, we are very much outsiders. It is a long shot – no question about it.
“We have shown our resilience throughout the season with great performances, notably Nottingham last week. So you can never count us out.”
The Vipers host Edinburgh at Whitley Bay Ice Rink tonight in the first of the two Anglo-Scottish matches, with Longmuir quick to rubbish any suggestion of complacency towards the bottom-placed side.
He added: “We would be kidding ourselves if we took the challenge of Edinburgh lightly and, with the lack of player availability a key factor for us, there is not too much difference in the ability of the two sides.
“The Capitals will be wanting to get back on track, so we have to be fully aware of the threat they can cause.
“Realistically though, if we do not win this game then our play-off chances will fade quickly.”
Tomorrow the Vipers travel to Dundee and, one place above the Vipers in the league, the Stars share similar play-off ambitions – leaving Longmuir under no illusions as to the importance of this game.
He said: “I have said it a lot this season, but the game against Dundee is the most important game of the season. We would love to be able to snatch eighth place from Dundee, so if we can take four points from this weekend’s games we are back in the hunt for that play-off place.”
Meanwhile, Whitley Warriors travel to Fife Flyers in the Northern League today, hoping to make up for the disappointing 10-3 loss to the same side earlier in the season.
The Warriors then host Nottingham Lions at 5pm tomorrow in the English National League aiming to carry on their impressive unbeaten record.
Elsewhere in the ENL, fifth-placed Northern Stars travel to sixth-placed Coventry Blaze today.