EDINBURGH - Having yet to record a winning season in the history of the Elite League, the Edinburgh Capitals have turned their sights east to try and signal a new dawn.
Expectations have been raised around the Capitals, as they get their twelfth season in the Elite League (EIHL) underway this weekend. With perennial play-off qualifiers Braehead Clan making the short drive east from Glasgow, the Capitals step out on the ice following a frantic off-season activity.
While the British game has historically relied on North American contributions, the Capitals have instead embarked down the opposite direction in search for a cutting edge for the 2017/18 season, with six of the new signees hold a Russian passport. A major part in the club's new formula for success will be coming from the bench, with Dmytro Khrystych hand-picked as the man to lead the team to new heights.
"During the last four seasons, the Edinburgh Capitals have finished last in the standings three times. Now there is a new attitude in the city, coming from me and from the new players, so we are going to try to make the play-offs and then continue from there," said an optimistic head coach Khrystych ahead of his new challenge.
Kyiv-born Khrystych played twelve seasons in the NHL as a forward and made two NHL All-Star appearances. An ensuing coaching career has so far seen Khrystych be part of the coaching staff at the international level with his native Ukraine and as a video coach at club level in the KHL. Now at the age of 48, he steps into his first job as professional head coach and into uncharted waters on the British Isles.
One of his previous bouts with the British game came during his three years working as assistant coach for Ukraine. At the 2011 IIHF World Championship Division I Group B played in his native Kyiv, hosts Ukraine were aiming for a return to the top division. Instead, their promotion campaign derailed right from the outset.
"We were hoping to win gold during that tournament and our first game was against Great Britain. It was a game we did not expect to lose, but that's what happened and in the end we finished in third place," recalled Khrystych.
Now six and a half years later, Khrystych is about experience the British game first hand. He was introduced to the vacant coaching position in Edinburgh by his close friend Andrei Nikolishin. A World champion at both senior and junior level, Nikolishin previously had brief stints as head coach for Traktor Chelyabinsk and Amur Khabarovsk in the KHL and was hired in the offseason to assist the Capitals with their player recruitment.
After the addition of the Guildford Flames and Milton Keynes Lightning into the EIHL, the league's four Scottish participants, the Fife Flyers, Braehead Clan, Dundee Stars and Edinburgh Capitals, now solely make up the Gardiner Conference with many feisty encounters to look forward to this season.
Khrystych’s first test came at the Elite Scottish Cup held at Edinburgh's Murrayfield Ice Rink earlier this month. Billed as a new annual venture aiming to promote the game north of the border, it saw the Capitals finish third following a 3-0 win over Dundee Stars. The result was significant from a defensive perspective as one of their new Russian recruits, 24-year-old Pavel Shegalo enjoyed the first shut-out for a Capitals netminder in three years. .
"Nikolishin offered me a lot of good advice. Not only in terms of tactics, but also how to work with the new guys from Russia and to help them in a new country, where some of them don't even speak the language," said Khrystych, as his team hopes to click into gear ahead of the looming league opener.
"Mistakes were made during the games we played so far, but we learn from them as we try to have a much better outcome for the season. We will be looking to play aggressively when possible going forward, but at the same time we need to keep it smart in our own zone."