Edinburgh Capitals’ embark on their first season with player/coach Riley Emmerson at the helm, and they have made no secret of the fact that making the play-offs is their number one priority ahead of the 2015-16 Elite League season which starts this Saturday against Belfast Giants at Murrayfield Ice Rink.
It has been a hectic off-season for the 29-year-old since his appointment back in April to replace the outgoing Richard Hartmann. The one time NHL draft selection with the Minnesota Wild back in 2005 has overseen the restructuring of the roster and added both quality and depth in search of success on the ice. It is clear though that progress on and off the ice is also of the upmost importance.
“As a coach your main goal is to win,” Emmerson said. “In our case, this year it is to win and to keep building our club in the community and getting the Capitals name out more in Edinburgh. I plan on us making the play-offs this year.”
In the last two seasons, the Capitals have narrowly missed the play-offs. Emmerson was a part of the side that finished in 9th last season and he believes he can provide the veteran presence that other players can look to as opposed to being a key contributor on the ice. That’s despite scoring 14 goals and contributing 18 assists in 50 games last year.
“I see myself as more of a veteran presence,” Emmerson told me. “We have some very good players this year who will take the load offensively.”
Despite making as many as 12 overseas signings to bolster the squad, Emmerson was keen to also draw attention to the home grown members of the team. The Capitals also have a team playing in the Scottish National League, and developing their links with local players and helping the Scottish contingent to progress is also high on the agenda.
“I want to help build and improve our Scottish players as the better they are, the better our club will be,” said Emmerson.
Edinburgh’s pre-season campaign saw the side lose all three of their games, 9-2 and 6-2 in two meetings with the Dundee Stars, and a 6-4 reverse against the Fife Flyers. The team have, however, been boosted with the news that forwards Craig McCallum and David Rutherford, as well as defencemen Kyle Bigos have had their visas approved and will be available ahead of the curtain raiser at the weekend.
Last season’s Elite League title went the way of the Coventry Blaze, but Emmerson predicts that not only will the margins be small this year, but that the destination of the title will also be closely fought.
“I think that every team has improved tremendously this off-season so I think it is anyone’s for the taking this year,” said Emmerson. “That is the great thing about hockey. Any team can beat any team and it just depends on which team shows up.”
The Elite League will have a different feel to it this year, what with the addition of a new team. Manchester Storm replaced Hull Stingrays who were liquidated at the end of the 2014-15 season following the loss of a sponsor. Emmerson believes that keeping the full complement of teams was incredibly important, but concedes that the loss of Hull was a shame.
“Losing Hull was a blow but being able to add Manchester and keeping the league at ten teams is huge,” Emmerson said. “Manchester seems to have a great squad this year. It will also be nice to see another rink in the UK as well.”
If you needed persuading that the Edinburgh Capitals are serious about making a statement this season then you need look no further at their list of arrivals who between them boast some impressive achievements.
The vast majority had been plying their trade in leagues in North America, with one in defencemen Bigos, arriving from the AHL’s Worcester Sharks who are affiliated with the NHL’s San Jose Sharks. Incidentally, Worcester have since relocated to San Jose to become the San Jose Barracuda, while Bigos was a draft selection by the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers back in 2009.
Emmerson reiterated that he is happy with the recruitment over the summer and is confident this season can be a successful one for the club. A lot is also spoken about in sports regarding the importance of home advantage. Unsurprisingly, Emmerson feels that his side will need to make Murrayfield a fortress and make it as difficult and hostile as possible for their opponents.
“I intend for us to be really good this year. Murrayfield is a hard rink to win at so we need to use that to our advantage and make sure we are a tough team to play at home,” Emmerson said. “With the team we have built and the character of the guys we have brought in, we will be a great team.”
One fixture that is sure to whet the appetite of those connected with the Edinburgh Capitals is the forthcoming meetings with Braehead Clan. It is already something of a grudge match given the close proximity between the sides, and the recent announcement by the Clan that former Capitals player/coach Richard Hartmann has joined Braehead as player/assistant coach is only going to add to that one would suspect.
“It will add some spice for sure,” Emmerson admitted. “It is great that Richard has got a job and it will definitely make it more interesting when we play Braehead.”
By his own admission, Emmerson is fully focused on the year ahead, even to the point that he insisted he isn’t fussed who lifts the NHL’s Stanley Cup next June as he doesn’t have a specific allegiance to a team.
It is little wonder, perhaps, given the excitement that has been building ahead of the new Elite League season, particularly amongst the new additions. It is also why Emmerson found it a challenge when asked which Capitals player he predicts will be the one to watch.
“I will name three; Ryan Hayes, David Rutherford and Jacob Johnston,” Emmerson said. “We also have guys like Trevor Gerling and Everett Sheen who I expect to have fantastic seasons.”
In reality, Emmerson could have reeled off the names of almost anyone on the list of new signings for this season. One would expect that it will be easier for the likes of Hayes and Johnston to acclimatise to their new surroundings given the pair were teammates at the Utah Grizzlies and both signed from the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) side this summer. The same also applies to Rutherford and Sheen who swapped Ontario Reign for the Scottish capital.
Without a cruel twist of fate, Rutherford would not have even been a part of the Capitals’ roster. Elite League clubs are limited to 12 overseas signings, and it was only the season ending injury to intended addition Luke Judson while playing in Australia that opened up the spot for Rutherford to sign. Losing a player of Judson’s calibre was a tough blow for the team and the player himself, but Emmerson believes Rutherford will add further quality.
“David is a winner. He has won at every level and is a tremendous talent,” Emmerson explained. “Getting the opportunity to add him was huge for us but losing Luke did suck because he is a great player and an even better person.”
“I wish Luke the fastest of recoveries. Luke and I are still talking every day and he is keeping me updated on everything,” Emmerson added.
Emmerson hasn’t just set about building a roster capable of being successful, he’s also made it his aim to shift the mentality of the club and bring in the right sorts of personalities and characters. After all, ability is only one part of a make-up of a player.
“For sure bringing in guys with great character who are ready to help change the face of the club is what I wanted,” explained Emmerson. “These are guys who are hungry for success for themselves but also for the team as well. We have a great group of guys in the locker room who are all ready to go to war for each other.”
Edinburgh Capitals begin their 2015-16 Elite League season at home to Belfast Giants in the Challenge Cup this Saturday, September 5th with the face-off time of 5.30pm at Murrayfield Ice Rink. For more on the team as well as ticket and fixture information, visit www.edinburgh-capitals.com