Setting the Scene: Dundee Stars

Omar Pacha is hoping for the play-offs in his third season at Dundee Stars (PHOTO: Scott Wiggins)

by Scott Wyllie (@scottwyllie37)

THE SEASON THAT WAS

Dundee Stars’ 2018/19 season may be regarded as perhaps one of the most bittersweet seasons in the franchise’s history now and in years to come.

A jubilant 3-1 victory over EIHL heavyweights, Cardiff Devils, in the Dundee Ice Arena in the final home game of the season proved that which many Stars fans – myself included – already knew: that this Stars roster was a formidable force capable of beating any given team in the EIHL.

They did exactly this, beating each opposition team from around the EIHL at least once across all competitions. In spite of this, the Stars would finish tenth overall in the league standings, higher only than the depleted and struggling Milton Keynes Lightning.

This would also be the second consecutive season in which the Dundee Stars would not progress to the playoffs, missing out on the playoff quarter finals and subsequently the chance to compete for the all important EIHL Playoffs Cup.

Dundee’s win over Cardiff in the final weeks of the season was a highlight (PHOTO: Derek Black)

However, it must be taken into consideration that the Stars roster of 2018/19 succumbed to a similarly injury – plagued season as their previous incarnation in the 2017/18 season.

Injuries to key players such as natural goal scorer François Bouchard, captain Johan Andersson and on – ice presence Matt Bissonnette certainly hampered the Stars’ push towards the play-offs, causing significant chaos in terms of line structure.

Alas a mediocre powerplay, a distinct lack of grit and physicality at times and shallow scoring depth would also prove contributing factors to what was personally, and generally, a frustrating yet entertaining season overall.

COMING IN

Similarly bittersweet was the arrival of summer and the off-season, a great opportunity to sign quality new players for the upcoming season and yet, as all fans will know, an agonising period of time in which only signing news will suffice to fill the void which the lack of action creates.

This has been however, a time that GM and Head Coach, Omar Pacha, has used wisely and productively.

Personally, I’m astounded at the terrific job Pacha has done during his tenure in Dundee so far on and off the ice of growing the Dundee as a club and boosting attendances at Stars home games, something which I believe will only continue to trend in an upward direction this season.

This commitment to growing the club and bettering the franchise can be seen in the wealth of – on paper – quality signings Pacha has acquired for the 2019/20 roster.

Can Craig Gans make a difference to the Stars defensive lines this season? (PHOTO: Derek Black)

In particular, the re-signing of assistant coach and fan favourite Matt Marquardt is an enormously positive decision.

Scoring 23 goals and assisting on a further 23, Marquardt also has proven himself a competent leader on the ice and I would not be surprised to see him named captain this upcoming season.

Furthermore, I was delighted with the acquisition of 6’4” 205lbs physical defenceman Craig Gans, who evidently has been signed in order to provide some sorely lacking physicality and a willingness to fulfil an enforcer role of sorts should the necessity for this arise.

I would imagine Gans will be also looked towards to dutifully carry out a substantial penalty killing role with his defensive partner. That is, when he isn’t in the penalty box himself.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

All things considered, my outlook on the 2019/20 season for Dundee Stars is – as I think will, and should, be the case for many Stars fans and Omar Pacha himself – overwhelmingly positive.

Hockey in Dundee has irrefutably grown exponentially thanks to Pacha’s commitment to growing the Dundee Stars as a brand and having players from the club routinely help and visit the community.

This can only continue this year, with many of the latest signings poised to make an instant impact within the community in Dundee off the ice judging by recent interviews conducted for Stars TV channel.

The two key cruxes of the Stars for the past few seasons now have been addressed, with the powerplay seemingly looking to prove more effective this season due to the acquisition of some goal scoring wingers and centres.

Kevin Dufour impressed against Odense Bulldogs last weekend

This should generate a potent offensive threat to opposition goalies and penalty killing units.

Moreover, the distinct lack of physical presence in terms of forwards and defenceman prevalent in last season’s roster has also been addressed, with the aforementioned Gans as well as fellow signings Elgin Pearce and Jagger Dirk seemingly physical presences to be contended with also.

Overall, this roster seems to me an exciting young group, and with the skill and grit that they have on paper, I can see this roster perhaps being capable of winning the Gardiner Conference title and making a deep Challenge Cup run.

MY TOP LINE

Were I pushed to choose a top line for the Stars, I would select Jordan Cownie in the centre position, flanked on the left wing by Matt Marquardt, and on the right wing by Egils Kalns. My top defensive pairing to compliment this line would be Drydn Dow and Craig Gans.

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