Elite League: Scottish clubs have high hopes for season

Ice hockey players
Braehead Clan, Edinburgh Capitals, Dundee Stars and Fife Flyers are the Scottish teams in the Elite League

Scotland's ice hockey teams are ramping up the training ahead of this weekend's return of Elite League action.

With an extra number in the import quotas (now up to 14), coaches have been furiously signing up top names from Canada, the United States, Russia, the Czech Republic, Sweden and Slovakia.

Four top-level clubs north of the border - Braehead Clan, Edinburgh Capitals, Dundee Stars and Fife Flyers - plus Manchester Storm make up the Gardiner Conference.

Incidentally, the Gardiner Trophy for which they compete was named after Charlie Gardiner, the Edinburgh-born netminder who captained Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 1934.

Five more teams competing in the Erhardt Conference and the top eight points scorers from the two sections progress to the play-offs and battle it out for a place in the grand final at Nottingham's National Ice Centre in April.

All 10 Elite League sides play each season for the Challenge Cup, so there is plenty of on-ice game time to give you shivers, even if you do remember the thermals.

As the first fixtures loom, BBC Scotland caught up with the Scottish clubs to see how each is shaping up for the 2016/17 season.

Fife Flyers on the ice in Kircaldy
Fife Flyers on the ice in Kircaldy where the Belfast Giants will be visiting on Saturday 3 September in the opening fixture of the Challenge Cup

Dundee Stars

Head coach Marc LeFebvre admits that Dundee Stars have had a tough time reeling in the big fish as import numbers increase, given the financial implications, but believes they are putting a strong side on the ice.

"One thing we wanted to do was improve our goal-tending and I think we've done that with Joe Fallon," he said. "He's got a great CV.

"I think our defence is a lot better, a lot more youthful back there, and we've added more size, and up front we've got a lot faster.

"Ice hockey is a pretty fast game, so we want to be a bit faster than we were last year. So we've improved in a lot of areas.

"We want to win our conference - four points away from winning it last year - so that's one of our targets and again make the play-offs, like we did last year, but take it one step further and get into the final-four weekend and try and qualify for the cup play-offs as well.

"We have small targets that we want to reach - and exceed them.

Hockey players
The Gardiner Trophy is named after Charlie Gardiner, the Edinburgh-born netminder who captained Chicago Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 1934

"When we do the recruiting, we try and look for the diamonds in the rough to compete. It makes it harder, but it's a good challenge."

Fife Flyers

Head coach Todd Dutiaume promises a more offensive Fife Flyers line-up this season as they hope to make it third time a charm in the play-offs.

"We've seen some highlights and been keeping an eye on the signings," he said. "Once again, the league keeps pushing forward in the standard, so we're definitely going to have to be right on pace to keep up.

"My initial impression of the dressing-room is one of unity and the guys are having a great time. So, if we can get that to transfer onto the ice, I'm really excited about the upcoming season.

"Last year was a heartbreaker - tying for Conference and losing out to a great Braehead team on a tie-breaker. We want to challenge for that title again and obtain that goal of obtaining some silverware for Fife.

"Every other competition we want to improve on - our league standing, we want to get further in the Challenge Cup competition and, if we are fortunate enough to get to that final four again, I'd love to see the Fife Flyers in a final, where anything can happen.

"I know that's asking an awful lot. But, if we can push on as a group and get to a point where we can give ourselves even a chance of success, I'd be absolutely thrilled with that."

Edinburgh Capitals

Scott Neil, Edinburgh Capitals' general manager, admits it was a very frustrating end to 2015/16 but says they have made improvements to make them more competitive and hopefully more consistent this season.

"At the start of last season, we had a great a great run of victories - most consecutive wins ever in a season - and we were fourth in the league at one time looking very strong and unfortunately we went on a slide we couldn't recover from," he said.

"Hopefully we've got more depth in different areas this year, I think we're a little bit more versatile. We've got guys who can play good defensive role - and guys who show up offensively.

"Our top pedigree players are Jared Stall, ex-NHL and Russia's Pavel Vorobyev, who also played in the NHL."

Edinburgh Capitals players in training at Murrayfield Ice Rink
Edinburgh Capitals in training at Murrayfield Ice Rink ahead of their clash with Dundee Stars on Saturday, 3 September

Braehead Clan

Head coach Ryan Finnerty believes Braehead Clan have a good mix of "size", "skill" and "toughness" and is looking forward to seeing that transfer onto the ice.

"I think, on paper, I feel really good about it," he said.

"We set out what we wanted to do at the start of our recruitment process and we wanted to get a bit bigger and bit stronger but make sure we kept that skill level we've had this last couple of years.

"This season is our season to take that next step. We've been knocking on the door - we're one point away, five points away. This is our year.

"Everybody has upgraded, but that's our motto this year - we're tired of being the bridesmaids.

"We've been coming so close and so close and haven't been able to close it off and this is the year we want to do it. This is the year we feel we have to do it.

"Our fans have been patient, but everybody wants that success, including myself.

"We really put a lot of emphasis this year on winning and that's what we want. We want to win trophies, we want to experience that success and we want to bring it to Braehead."