HAVING been given the green light to see out the Elite League season, Newcastle Vipers will look to reinforce their squad for a play-off push.
The Vipers and Edinburgh Capitals were summoned to a league meeting this week amid fears neither could afford to see out the campaign.
But the league received the assurances they were seeking, and now player-coach Danny Stewart has been told he can search for new players.
The struggling Vipers put player recruitment on ice before Christmas until they found new investors. But the departure of two players last week will allow Stewart to explore the market.
“We’ve managed to get things in place which will allow me to continue talks with potential new owners,” explained general manager Jaimie Longmuir.
“There’s still obviously pressure involved, but things are looking a lot more promising.
“Everyone realises it’s a difficult position and there’s an obligation for the league to consider its best interests.
“It was just a sensible dialogue about what we had to do. They wanted to make sure I was committed to overseeing things, which of course I am.
“I will continue to run the club and report to the league on a weekly basis.”
Jamie Carroll and Dale Mahovsky quit last week, leaving Stewart with just 11 skaters on Sunday. But Newcastle pulled off a shock 5-4 win at Coventry Blaze, and now have much-needed wriggle room.
“By losing players you can try and use some of the budget on new players,” Longmuir explained. “We’re going to be bringing in some young, local players but we’re also looking at players based in the UK who might become available.
“It’s actually quite exciting to be talking about that stuff again, instead of problems off the ice.
“We have to be as creative as we can to try and redress the balance of the squad.”
The Vipers signed Whitley Warriors forward Adam Reynolds on a two-way contract in late November, and their close relationship with the English National League side, whose Hillheads ice they play on, will make it their first port of call for young talent. At the same time as pressing ahead with squad strengthening, Longmuir will look to secure the investment Newcastle need to thrive in the last ten weeks of the regular season. Weekend victories over Coventry and Edinburgh have moved them to eighth in the table, with eight clubs qualifying for the end-of-season play-offs.
“There’s discussions at the moment with a potential investor but they’ve literally just started,” Longmuir revealed. “The early conversations have been positive, though.”
Centre Carroll and winger Mahovsky have both headed across the Atlantic, the former for a team in the Central Hockey League, and the latter to the East Coast Hockey League.
“I don’t have any ill-feeling towards the lads who left,” Longmuir insisted.
“You never want to lose somebody but I would never want to stand in someone’s way. When opportunity comes knocking and there’s uncertainty around the club it’s tough to ignore.
“The way Jamie Carroll handled himself was great and he agonised over the decision to leave. He handled himself really professionally.
“But guys have got to look after themselves as well and when an offer comes to go to North America at a late stage in your career, you have to take it.
“My full attention is on the guys who are still here. I don’t think people realise how close this was to all coming to an end. I was very concerned at the end of November – but we stuck together when it mattered the most and got a bit of luck.”
Canadian forward Mike Prpich was named Elite League Player of the Week for his part in the weekend wins. Prpich contributed two goals and nine assists to the Vipers’ 15 goals.