Phantoms hit the ice for the first time this weekend to prepare for what their head coach expects to be a much tougher season.
The city club compete at NIHL Division One South level for the second successive campaign and Slava Koulikov is certain the standard will increase compared to 2017/18 when they agonising missed out on title and play-off glory.
Phantoms face the team who pipped them to both crowns – Basingstoke Bison – this weekend in the now annual Billy Glover Memorial Challenge. They go to Hampshire on Saturday (6.30pm) ahead of a Sunday return at Planet Ice (5.30pm).
“It’s been a different summer, a lot less turbulent than last year,” said Koulikov.
“We have a stable roster and we know what to expect in our second season at this level.
“The competitiveness of the league will go up and I expect there to be many more close games than last season. That can only be a good thing for everyone involved.
“I think we’ve done really well to put the roster together. We have replaced players who left and also added in certain areas.
“We have the depth we need and the average age has come down which will hopefully add a bit more energy to how we play.
“We lost some top-end scorers offensively and we have to ensure plenty of guys chip in with goals.”
Giant Czech import Petr Stepanek is back in Phantoms’ colours after previously spending the 2016/17 campaign with the city club.
Netminders Jordan Marr and Ryan Bainborough, defenceman Callum Buglass and forwards Corey McEwen – the son of Peterborough ice hockey legend, Doug – and Harry Ferguson are other new recruits.
Young prospects such as defenceman Bradley Bowering and forwards Jarvis Hunt, Taylor Romeo and Jack Escott are expected to have a much bigger part to play at senior level this season.
Phantoms’ changes are nothing in comparison to the major summer upheaval at Basingstoke.
The double-winners have lost coach Doug Sheppard and several members of his successful squad to NIHL Division One South rivals Bracknell.
Great Britain legend Ashley Tait is the Hampshire club’s new player-coach and he’ll oversee a vastly different roster which features two new import forwards in Czech veteran Richard Bordowski and Slovakian ace Michal Klejna.
And with a shortened pre-season schedule compared to previous years, the challenge clashes against the Bison take on plenty of importance.
Koulikov added: “We don’t have the time to get ready that we used to have in the past.
“We only have the two games and we have to try to implement tactics straight away.
“The main thing is on giving the guys time on the ice, but we have to ensure things are right for the first cup games the following weekend.”
Phantoms’ first competitive games are against Telford home and away in the NIHL Autumn Cup over the weekend of September 15 and 16.
n Phantoms are holding a ‘Meet the Players’ event tomorrow night (Friday).
It takes place at the Legends Bar at Planet Ice from 7pm and admission is free.