AFTER a fortnight of turmoil, Newcastle Vipers hope to be 60 minutes away from a cup semi-final tomorrow morning.
Danny Stewart’s men entertain Dundee Stars in a Challenge Cup group game at Hillheads tonight. Win it and they will be in a strong position to claim a last-four place.
It is all a far cry from even a few days ago when the Elite League club was in crisis.
With no game for a fortnight, the Vipers set about reshaping their squad. Nathan Salem (pictured below) was released after failing to impress in his first season at this level, and forward Dan Speer stood down to make way for fellow import Nick Duff. No sooner was that done than star defenceman Scott Langdon announced he was quitting to head back across the Atlantic and Duff backed down on his move because of the uncertainty around the club.
It was a testing time for player-coach Stewart, compounded when a 5-4 penalty shots defeat in Dundee sent them bottom of the table on Saturday. But 24 hours later they responded with a 3-1 win over Coventry Blaze.
In an Elite League widely split between the rich and the poor – ten points separate the fifth-placed Blaze from sixth – it was an impressive win. Now Stewart wants another.
“It’s a huge game for the club on and off the ice,” he said of tonight’s clash. “It’s been very difficult with the uncertainty because I can’t bring in the extra bodies we need. To play short-handed, it’s tough. Even after the Coventry win it’s still in the back of your minds that it’s going to be tough.”
The Canadian believes the spirit in his squad is what has pulled them through. “If you’ve got a couple of bad apples and people being negative it makes it a lot tougher,” he said. “But we’ve got a tighter-knit group because of everything we’ve been through.
“It’s very easy when you face adversity in all areas to shut it down and go through the motions. Sometimes in adversity people show their true colours. It’s a situation where I wasn’t expecting miracles, I just expected people to stay positive.”