JAIMIE LONGMUIR has admitted Vipers’ play-off hopes are now ‘slim’ and says he can give no guarantees that Elite League ice hockey will return to Newcastle next season.
Vipers’ weekend defeat against Cardiff Devils and Hull Stingrays left the club seven points behind Dundee Stars, who occupy eighth place and the final play-off position, with just four games to go.
That means Vipers need to win all four of their remaining games - which include a double-header against Stars on the final weekend of the season – and hope that Dundee do not pick up any more points, if they are to sneak into the play-offs.
Vipers’ will be killed off this weekend if they fail to win their games against two of the sides fighting it out for the title. Vipers visit third-placed Belfast Giants on Saturday night and then entertain leaders Sheffield Steelers at Whitley Bay on Sunday.
And if Stars win either of their games this weekend – at home to basement side Edinburgh Capitals on Saturday or at Coventry on Sunday – Vipers’ results will be academic.
With the play-offs now a long-shot at best, attention is beginning to turn to the cash-strapped Vipers’ long-term future with general manager Longmuir seemingly no closer to finding new investors willing to pump money into the club.
“I can’t give any further insight or comfort concerning the club’s future beyond the end of the 2010/11 season,” he said.
“I expect a decision on the future to be made in the off-season when the dust has settled and people can make sensible decisions about the club’s ability to move forward but my focus is on the here and now. The fact that our club has remained in the playoff race to this point is an amazing achievement given the bodies we have, but unfortunately the results at the weekend mean qualification for the play-offs is now slim. I am hopeful that as many fans as possible, old and new, can come together over the next two weekends and show that we can sustain professional ice hockey beyond this season. There is a chance this could be the final two home games for the club or maybe we are on the verge of an exciting new chapter?
“The only thing I know for sure is that the players will give their all no matter what and they deserve as much support as possible.
“As an organisation we will continue to give everything we have over our final four games – and they are a massively important four games.”
Despite Vipers’ financial problems, player-coach Danny Stewart has led his side to a Challenge Cup semi-final appearance and managed to stay in the hunt for a play-off place right up to the end of the season.
And his achievements have been recognised by the Elite League, who have included him on their shortlist for the Coach of the Year award.
Longmuir continued: “I must give special mention to Danny Stewart on being shortlisted and let me assure everyone he is thoroughly deserving of this recognition.
“There will be some who ask why has Danny been shortlisted when we are near the bottom of the standings but all I will say is the job Danny has done here is remarkable and I can’t think of many other coaches who could have squeezed the performance levels, and some of the results, he has out of this group of players.
“The reality is that our club has no business winning any games given the issues with our roster, but we have and that’s credit to Danny and the players.
“Believe me, there are many that would have packed this in a long time ago given our situation, but Danny stuck with us and I believe has a very bright future in the sport.”