Murrayfield Racers face a big test on Sunday as they visit Billingham Stars in the NIHL North Cup.
The Racers started their Scottish National League (SNL) season with a 5-3 victory over North Ayrshire Wild last weekend, but they could find things much tougher on Teesside.
Billingham began their Moralee D1 campaign with a narrow home defeat against reigning champions Sheffield Steeldogs, before bouncing back with a hard-fought victory at Solihull Barons.
The two sides are joined in the cross-border competition this term by five other NIHL North clubs – Sheffield, Hull Pirates, Telford Tigers, Solway Sharks and Blackburn Hawks.
The teams play each other once at home and once away in the group stage, with the top four sides qualifying for two-legged semi-finals. The winners go on to face each other home and away in the final.
Murrayfield will be eager to make an impression against their NIHL counterparts, but director of hockey Tony Hand admits his side won’t find things easy this weekend.
“Billingham are a quality side and this is a step-up from the Scottish National League,” he said. “The squad will certainly learn from the experience of playing a team in the NIHL.
“We are going into the unknown as we’ve not faced an NIHL team before, but we will be competitive despite this being only our third game.
“We had two excellent pre-season jousts with Dundee Comets and a home win over North Ayrshire was the perfect start to life in the SNL.
“Mark McGill will start in goal on Sunday as Craig Mallinson was injured in training. There has also been a bug running around the dressing-room, but we’ll be going all out to perform to the levels we are capable of.”
Billingham struggled last season, but hopes are high around the club that they can improve this term.
New head coach Tom Brown already appears to have made a difference, but he admits his side still have a long way to go.
“We are all still getting used to each other and there is a lot of work to do, but I’m pleased with the guys’ willingness to learn,” he said.
“They are taking on board completely new systems – it will take time to get things right.
“We don’t know a great deal about Murrayfield, but there are no easy games for sure and we will be playing each team exactly the same way.”
Aberdeen Lynx host Kirkcaldy Kestrels on Saturday aiming to record their second victory in the newly-formed Stuart Robertson Cup.
Lynx started their season with a 9-2 success over Dundee Tigers, but head coach Owen Reynolds has urged his players not to be complacent,
“We’ve still got a fair amount of work to do on our chemistry and fitness and the games are only going to get tougher,” he told the Aberdeen Evening Express.
“I don’t think anyone will be getting carried away with Saturday’s result. Kirkcaldy Kestrels will be no pushovers this weekend.
“There hasn’t been much between us in recent years and they’ve got some young, talented players who’ll be keen to prove what they’re capable of.
“We’ll certainly need to raise our game and I don’t anticipate such a one-sided affair like we witnessed in the season opener.”
Aberdeen Lynx v Kirkcaldy Kestrels – SRC East
Kilmarnock Thunder v Paisley Pirates – SRC West
Billingham Stars v Murrayfield Racers – NIHL Cup
Solway Stingrays v North Ayrshire Wild – SRC West
(Image permission: Derek Black)