Elite Ice Hockey League: Clan forward Brock McPherson on new head coach

Braehead Clan celebrate victory over Edinburgh Capitals, October 2012.
Braehead Clan welcome the Edinburgh Capitals on Saturday.© Kris Jack

With Team GB Ice Hockey amidst their Olympic Qualifiers in Riga this weekend, the majority of games in the Elite League will take place between the Gardner Conference sides, due to the majority of Nottingham Panthers, Sheffield Steelers and Belfast Giants making up the hopeful British side.

Having fallen 6-2 to Latvia yesterday, Tony Hand's side take on France today (Friday) before going up against Kazakhstan, to seal a place at the 2014 Winter Olympics. While the rest of the Erhardt players get a weekend off, it's a busy round of games for the Gardner sides, who are in action on both Saturday and Sunday night.

On Saturday night, Braehead Clan will be looking to make up for their two weekend losses last time out when they host Edinburgh Capitals. The Caps had an emphatic 5-2 victory over the Clan last Sunday at Murrayfield, and Clan forward Brock McPherson knows how much of a danger they could be again this weekend.

"Edinburgh are a team that has a great scoring ability," said the 6ft 1in fan favourite. "They take advantage of the opportunities that they get.

"I think that in a lot of the games this season against them, we have been shooting ourselves in the foot and giving them to many of those opportunities."

With the Capitals having won three out of four games against the Clan on their own ice, they managed their first ever win at Braehead recently, which McPherson knows will be on the minds of his team mates.

He said: "This weekend we will get back to playing our game, keeping it simple and working hard.

"The guys that we have in our dressing room will be ready to have a great response on home ice, especially after a good week of practice."

The losses last weekend were the first the Clan had endured since Paul Gardiner took over the reigns from Jordan Krestanovich in January.

Going five games unbeaten under the new management and getting to the Challenge Cup semi finals was an impressive start, which McPherson puts down to the simplification of the game that Gardiner has instilled in the side.

"I think that the changes that Paul has made since coming in have been minor but important; Paul came in and related to all the guys in the locker room, he knows how to motivate every guy and understands that not all players are the same".

"How you deal with them as individuals has to be different. He has stressed to keep the game simple, work hard, shoot the puck every chance you get, and put Defence first.

"Paul has not changed the systems that we were playing with Jordan at the head, he just makes sure that we don't complicate them."

Since Gardiner came in, the Clan have been boosted by the signings of Craig Cescon and Matt Schepke, as well as the return of Jordan Krestanovich to the forward line. However, they were dealt a huge loss when Davide Nicoletti left the D to plough a furrow in the ECHL.

His presence at the back and from the blue line had been a highlight of the start of the Gardiner era. Still short benched due to injury and lack of a full roster, Brock has been proud of his team mates for digging in all season.

He said: "The loss of a player like Dave is huge, he was played really well for us and was a great teammate on and off the ice, he will be missed.

"On the other hand we have had a lot of battles with being short staffed this season and it just shows the character that we have in the dressing room.

"To be working hard through the tough times and still putting some wins on the board is a fantastic effort. Injuries are part of the sport and the guys we have know that even short staffed we still have a job to do and we have to work through it."

Being short benched so often this season has no doubt contributed to the inconsistency of the Clan's term so far. It has allowed the other sides in the Conference to stay on their tails, with Dundee Stars and Fife Flyers nipping at their heels to finish top of the Conference.

With just a pint between the Clan and Dundee, and the same again between Dundee and Fife, the race for top spot is getting tighter each week.

"We can't be worrying to much about what is happening with Dundee and Fife," said McPherson, of his side's closest rivals.

"We are ahead right now and we have to worry about what we are doing as a team, we have to go out every night and work, if we take care of our game as a team then it will take effect on the standing and our place in the table.

"I think that winning the conference would be a great achievement for the Clan, being only the side's 3rd season in the league. I think that our team does have enough to make a push but the number of games remaining may not be in our favour.

"We are only worrying about what we have to do and if we keep getting wins then the standings will take care of themselves."

With both Gardner and Elite League points up for grabs this weekend, McPherson and his colleagues, minus Rob Farmer who is with Team GB, will be looking to increase their lead over the Stars and Flyers with a win over the Capitals on Saturday, before travelling to Coventry on Sunday to take on the Blaze.

Having just knocked Paul Thompson's side out of the Challenge Cup, Braehead can likely expect a hostile reception at the SkyDome, particularly after the brawl that broke out at the final buzzer the last time the sides met.

Elsewhere in the Gardner, Jeff Hutchins' Stars take on the Hull Stingrays twice in as many nights. With the Rays in need of points to get in to the Playoff positions, the Stars should be in for a pair of gritty games.

However, the Dundee side are just a point behind Braehead in both the Conference and Elite League, making Ws just as important for them. With the Stars now having former Stingray Janis Ozolins as part of their potent attack, Sylvain Cloutier may see his ex player return to haunt is side over the two matches, and will have to do so without starting netminder Ben Bowns, who is in Latvia.

The Fife Flyers start their weekend hosting Cardiff Devils on Saturday, as they too look to push towards the top of the league.

The Devils will be under strength with Phil Hill and Mark Richardson on national duty and top scorer Mac Faulkner this week ruled out for the rest of the season through injury. This should give Todd Dutiaume and Danny Stewart food for thought in their own barn.

On Sunday, they take on Edinburgh at Murrayfield, with the hosts looking to keep their recent home form going. With the Flyers delivering a sound 7-1 beating to the Caps last weekend in Fife though, the game could go either way.

FIXTURES

Saturday
Hull Stingrays v Dundee Stars
Brasehead clan v Edinburgh Capitals
Fife Flyers v Cardiff Devils

Sunday
Coventry Blaze v Braehead Clan
Edinburgh Capitals v Fife Flyers
Dundee Stars v Hull Stingrays

Kris Jack is a sports blogger and commentator. You can follow him on Twitter @krisjack85.

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