Omar Pacha has never been as excited about a hockey group as he is about his new Dundee Stars roster.
And the Stars’ head coach and general manager believes they are capable of being THE BEST team in Scotland.
Top level ice hockey is set to return in the UK after year away, with the Elite League season getting underway at the end of September.
Before then, the rebuilt Stars will face rivals Fife Flyers in back-to-back pre-season games.
Thousands of hockey fans will pack Dundee Ice Arena on Friday, September 17 to welcome their heroes back to the ice after last season’s Covid-19 shutdown.
For Pacha, that will mark the start of a campaign for which he has high expectations.
“Obviously our main goal is to compete in the league and to make the play-offs,” he said.
“But there’s no secret – coming back this year, we really want to take over the Scottish market.
“We want to be the best team in Scotland.”
Pacha’s declaration is as straight-faced as they come.
The Boucherville, Quebec native has spent recent months putting together a group of players he believes will excite Stars fans.
He has been striving to tick every box; size, toughness, speed, flair and dedication.
Now he can’t wait to watch his beefed-up team take up the challenge he has laid down – to make the Elite League play-offs while beating Flyers and Glasgow Clan to the UK-wide competition’s Scottish bragging rights.
“I’m really, really excited,” said Pacha.
“In all my years coaching, I think this is the most excited I’ve ever been with a hockey group.
“We’re well-balanced, we have good toughness, which is something that was key to add – guys that can throw the body a bit more and play that hard game.
“Being able to use our home ice to our advantage was a key point for this season and being a bit bigger will help, so I’m really excited about this year.
“When we were building this team, we wanted to be competitive, we wanted to build a team that can win, but we also wanted to put a team out that the fans can get excited about and be proud of.
“Most importantly, we wanted the fans to be able to see we have a hard-working team. Those were the main aspects.
“We’ve signed guys who have personality, who will be fan-favourites; guys like Kyle Haas, Connor Sills… guys that are bigger bodies.
— Dundee Stars🏒🥅 (@DundeeStars) July 16, 2021
“We did that because we wanted to add more toughness to our line-up – and that’s something I think the fans should be excited about.”
Having settled in Dundee, Pacha remained in the city during lockdown, welcoming a son, Mika, into the world in 2020.
With Elite League hockey off the agenda, it was a strange year for the 34-year-old.
But now, just a week away from the return of his side to action, he is completely focused on putting the best product he can on the ice.
He said: “It’s been a weird, weird year, though I can’t say it was a bad year because my son was born in 2020, which was a huge positive.
“I got to spend time with him and with my fiancé Jenny, which was fun.
“But outside of that I tried to stay busy, tried to follow some of the leagues that were playing.
“I tried to enhance my own coaching, did a lot of classes, read a lot of books and kept myself busy around the club as much as possible.
“I kept teaching at the University of Dundee also, where I lecture.
“But there was certainly more down time than I was used to, especially at the weekends and I became a big football fan – probably the only one in the city that will support both Dundee and Dundee United!
“The last few months, knowing that hockey is back have been really, really exciting for me and for everyone connected with the club and everything now is geared towards the new season – and that first friendly with Fife Flyers on September 17.
“It’s most likely going to be a sell-out, so that will be exciting to get the players in, to let them see the fans, see the atmosphere at the DIA.
“It’s going to be a special feeling to see the fans back and I hope it will be special for them to see these players.
“I really like this group, I think they’ll put on good shows for our fans – and most importantly bring the results that we want.”