DANNY Stewart has ordered his Newcastle Vipers to “bore Belfast Giants to death” in Whitley Bay, writes STUART RAYNER.
DJ Good will make his debut in tonight’s Elite League clash, when the hosts will be hoping to play on the Giants’ status as title-chasers.
Down to the bare bones again in Edinburgh 24 hours later, the Vipers plan to make the most of some extra bodies today. Whitley Warriors’ Adam Reynolds and Daniel Harris will all be wearing Vipers colours before returning to their parent club for tomorrow’s Northern League visit of Flintshire Freeze.
The Giants are seven points behind Elite League leaders Sheffield Steelers, with a game in hand.
“Saturday is a massive night for them,” said player-coach Stewart. “They definitely can’t afford to take us lightly. We’re not just going to roll over.
“We definitely want to lull them into our type of game.
“With the amount of bodies we have it’s very important to contain them and limit our mistakes. We need to kind of bore them to death.”
Sunday, though, will be a return to the sort of mission impossible the Vipers were presented with last weekend, where they played with just nine skaters.
“We’ve got to go to Edinburgh with just nine skaters,” said Stewart. “We’ve got to expect to go up there and give them a tough night.
“In most cases, I don’t want to say it’s impossible, but nine skaters in professional hockey is ridiculous. I get the odd call from other coaches that can’t believe how close we have kept the games.
“First and foremost I think we’ve proved to ourselves we can win but what it takes is to work hard and battle hard. It was such a good feeling when we beat Coventry, and we want to get that feeling again. Everyone’s on the same page.
“I’ve also got to lead by example. It’s been a tough season and guys have been through a lot. We’ve had some ups and downs but there’s no sense in giving up. We might as well give it a go.
“Playing with so few men is really physically draining and mentally draining, especially on bigger ice surfaces than Whitley Bay. With three defencemen it’s virtually impossible and you do a lot more skating as a forward.
“With the extended shifts there’s been a couple of times where we’ve had to stay out for six or seven minutes. Hockey’s a different kind of exertion to running. The acid build-up is too much and you need that rest. You try to slow games up as much as possible.”
The Vipers will be without defenceman John Schwarz – possibly forever. The Canadian had surgery on his hand this week, and faces a race to be fit for the last weekend of the regular season.
If Newcastle do not finish in the top eight – they are ninth – it will be the end of their campaign, and with serious doubts over their long-term future, they may not take to the ice again.
“It’s a massive blow,” said Stewart. “For the game against Dundee last Sunday, having that extra body at the back might have made a bit of difference. Schwarz wouldn’t have provided any more goals but they might have spent less time at our end.
“But guys have got to take care of their bodies and he had an injury that couldn’t wait. If we can squeak through to the final weekend he might be back for that.”
Homeless Northern Stars have two English National League North One games this week, at Fife Flyers tonight and Nottingham Lions tomorrow. Double points are available for the latter clash.