The Kitmart Dundee Stars return to the ice in less than two weeks for their pre-season training camp and head coach and general manager Omar Pacha has been pleasantly surprised to feel the same “buzz” as when he left the country back in May.
The Canadian has returned to begin his preparations for a build-up programme which includes games against German League Two side EHC Freiburg in back-to-back exhibition matches at the Dundee Ice Arena.
“There is a big buzz,” said Pacha. “It surprised me how big it is.
“I was really impressed over the last few days when I was speaking to people at the rink and also in town.
“You can just sense there is a very positive feeling around the club. It is good news. I am happy with where we are at with recruitment and it seems like everyone else is as well.
“We worked so hard through last year and this summer on building a team that is competitive on the ice but also improving things off the ice.
“You can just tell there is a lot of excitement there and we have to keep it going for the next few weeks.
“Our fans are our biggest allies and we are hoping they can keep talking about the Stars and keep pushing our team, making sure we are noticed everywhere.”
Pacha hopes his players will gel as a team in a short space of time.
“Playing in a country like the UK you want to make sure guys get adjusted as quickly as possible and just get used to the vibe,” he said.
“You want to get a feel of being around your team-mates and the rink, but you also need to get a feel of the systems.
“I think it is an exciting time and the players are looking forward to it. We are all really looking forward to the opportunity to get back on the ice.”
The German opponents selected to take on Stars on September 1 and 2 can provide a real test for Pacha’s men but he expects his side to do a “few things” well.
He said: “Usually the first few days of camp are a bit different with a bit more conditioning and getting to know their team-mates but by Saturday I expect us to have a few things we do well from what we learned throughout the week.
“The big thing is that the systems are obviously going to be new to a lot of the players, so it is how they adjust to the things being taught throughout the week.
“Also, to see their competitiveness in the games, their work ethic and how they play individually and as a team.
“I will be making sure we know the importance of being competitive and also giving a good show for our fans.”
The 31-year old was happy to have a whole summer to build his team compared to last season where he took up the role half-way through the close season.
He said: “We were able to build throughout the summer and get in the guys I wanted.
“It was so important having the opportunity to build my team from day one. Last year it was great to jump on board with the Stars and I loved the first year. We took massive strides off the ice.
“Now we want to make sure this season, not only do we improve off the ice but give a good product on the ice. That’s the most important thing for me, being able to prove we can build a competitive team.”
Despite having only one week between the first pre-season game and first competitive one, Pacha has not changed his approach from last season.
“We are still going week-by-week and day-by-day,” he explained. “We are just focusing on the first few days of training camp just now and then we will prepare for Belfast accordingly.
“That first game against Belfast is the first game in the Challenge Cup but we are still going to be in the preparation phase for the season and making sure we have our systems right.
“As much as it is the Challenge Cup and we want to proceed to the next round, we need to make sure that we get better throughout the games and that Belfast game is no exception. We want to get a result, but it is crucial that we make sure we improve as a team on a daily basis.”
After growing the club’s fanbase last year, Pacha is asking the fans to support them in big numbers at their exhibition games.
He said: “We had a plan that we wanted to bring a team from abroad. We want to have a good crowd, so this can be a regular event.
“It is important we push and get as many people in for that first weekend so that we can do this in the future on a yearly basis.
“Ticket sales have been great and it is key that the fans jump on board.”
After taking on the role of general manager as well as head coach last season, Pacha introduced many new initiatives to get the people of Tayside along to watch the Stars.
After a successful ‘Operation Sellout’ against local rivals, Fife Flyers, he is aiming to see many more packed out nights at the DIA.
He said: “We are looking for a few more nights like that. It is going to be really important to keep pushing it off the ice. It is hard to say now but I truly think we are going to have a really competitive team.
“I believe we have improved every single area from goal-tending to defence to forwards, so it is going to be important to keep that progress on the ice going and off the ice to keep selling our product.
“We are playing in the number one indoor sport in the UK and in top flight hockey that is growing across Europe and the world.
“For us it is making sure we keep exposing that to the people of Dundee and to keep getting more fans coming.”