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Dundee Stars expect record crowd as team make playoffs for first time in five years

Dundee Stars and head coach Omar Pacha on the ice rink.

Dundee is in the grip of ice hockey fever with the city’s Stars expecting a record-breaking attendance this weekend.

Dundee Stars have qualified for the end-of-season playoffs for the first time since 2017 and will face Sheffield Steelers in a two-legged quarter-final.

At least two supporters’ buses will be full for Saturday’s trip to South Yorkshire and the first ever 2,250 full-house against a non Scottish side is expected for Sunday’s return at the Dundee Ice Arena.

The winners will qualify for the grand finals weekend in Nottingham on April 30 and May 1.

‘People are talking about the Stars’

Omar Pacha, the Stars’ head coach and general manager, says the city is buzzing.

Head coach of the Dundee Stars, Omar Pacha.
Omar Pacha.

“There’s a big buzz about the team in Dundee,” he said. “Last Sunday we sold 500 tickets for the home game within 20 minutes.

“It was quite remarkable and now we have two or three full buses going to Sheffield – that’s another 300 people. It’s great to see our progress.

“Players are being asked about it on the street and when we had open practice there were a few hundred people at the building.

“When you walk down the streets people are talking about the Stars, watching our streams and the games. There is a lot of excitement and it is great to see.”

‘Our ticket sales are equal to an SPFL team’

The Stars’ failure to qualify for the playoffs in previous years is mitigated by the club’s relative lack of spending power and northerly location that requires more travelling than any of their rivals.

But improvements in league positions and attendances have been steady since the arrival, in 2017, of Pacha, who is originally from Montreal, Canada.

He said: “In my first game the average was 850 but since then it is up almost 50% with our average closer to 1,500.

“We play games at home every single weekend so when you see that some SPFL clubs are averaging less than four thousand that is basically our attendance if we played one game every other week.

“It’s quite impressive. Our ticket sales are equal to an SPFL team or a high-level Scottish Championship team.”

‘We beat those big teams this year’

This season’s Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) comprises 10 teams who play each other six times.

In finishing the 2021-22 season in sixth position the Stars took some notable scalps, including that of second-placed Sheffield, who they face this weekend.

Dundee Stars in action

“At this moment in time you have bigger clubs such as Sheffield, Cardiff and Nottingham,” Pacha added.

“We beat those big teams this year. We beat Cardiff three times – four times including the Challenge Cup – beat Belfast three times, beat Nottingham three times and beat Sheffield three times, including twice in a double-header last month.

“In the final standings we were within two points of finishing fourth so it’s quite impressive.”

Pacha also hailed the on-rink impact of “electric offensive players” Charlie Combs and Sebastian Bengtsson, and defenders Drydn Dow and Kyle Haas, “who has that physical edge to his game”.

When the Stars were formed in 2001 they won both the British National League (BNL) and playoffs in their first season, winning the playoffs again in 2005.

In 2010 they joined the Elite league and seven years later, under Marc LeFebvre, reached the semi-finals of the playoffs where they went down 4-2 to eventual winners Cardiff.

‘Our fans are some of the noisiest in the league’

Pacha is proud that the ratio of the supporters who watch Stars matches at the DIA is 48% female and 52% male.

“We try to focus on every single target market,” he said. “We don’t just want to just focus on males, we want to get families involved.

“Our kids’ season ticket sales have been unbelievable since my first year here. There are more kids than at some football games.

“Our fans are some of the noisiest in the league and the guys love playing at home so Sunday is going to be the most exciting ice hockey game in Dundee for the past five or six years.

“The guys love the city. All the guys, except one, live in Dundee so in the last eight to nine months they have become true Dundonians.

“Newcomers who go on Sunday will see the atmosphere, speed of the game and energy of the crowd.”

And hopefully a Stars success.

Tickets for Dundee Stars v Sheffield Steelers at the Dundee Ice Arena can be bought here

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