MK LIGHTNING general manager Vito Rausa says the disappointment of missing out on the English Premier League finals weekend last season is the motivation behind their bid for honours this term.
The city side let a 7-4 first leg lead slip to suffer play-off quarter final heartbreak against Slough Jets in April, going down 11-10 on aggregate after finishing fifth in the table.
Rausa said that letting the club’s fans down was extremely hard to take, but he is confident of better this season after an unprecedented summer of change, with five new additions to the team’s roster.
Lightning’s preparations for the opening weekend of the campaign didn’t go quite to plan as they suffered a 10-6 aggregate defeat to Peterborough Phantoms in their annual Ashes showdown, with Manchester Phoenix and Guildford Flames next up.
But despite tacking on last season’s top two sides this weekend, Rausa is targeting maximum points, plus a renewed sense of optimism from the fans.
“I’m delighted with the squad we’ve got for this season,” he said. “No disrespect to the players who left the club, but I think we have improved the roster.
“We’ve never had so much change from one season to another. Five new players is a lot and it will take some time for them to gel together properly.
“I’d much rather we made our mistakes then. We didn’t want to lose obviously, but it was a chance for us to try things and get the lines working together. But it was still a good run out. I was pleased.
“We all felt we let the fans down by not making the finals weekend last season, so we want to put that right. Our fans are by far and away the best in the league.
“If you ask supporters of other clubs I’m sure they will all tell you that Milton Keynes fans are the best.”
If Lightning are to challenge for a top three finish and cup success in 2012/13, then they will be over achieving in terms of the resources available to them.
Rausa says Lightning probably have the fourth or fifth biggest budget in the English Premier League, but what they may lack in financial clout, they more than make up for in terms of spirit – fighting spirit if Chris Wiggins, one of the five new recruits, is anything to go by.
The former Basingstoke Bison man was the clear winner of a clash with Peterborough import and so called hard man Jozef Sladok on Saturday. Rausa insists he hasn’t just been signed to fight though.
“I thought Wiggins looked like a very good ice hockey player against Peterborough,” he said. “What he brings to the team is more than just a tough presence, although he’s a very tough guy. I wouldn’t mess with him if he was asleep.
“Having him on board with us will show the rest of the league that we’re not a team to be bullied, but he’s also a very talented player – as all five of our new signings are. Adam Calder was excellent for Slough against us in the play-offs, so thankfully he’s on our side now,
“Unlike some teams who chase the dream, we stick strictly to stability ahead of flamboyance when it comes to the budget.”
There will be a feeling of deja vu when Lightning take on Manchester at Planet Ice this Saturday night as the north west outfit have been the opposition for the first game of the previous two seasons, winning one and losing one.
However, their visit to Milton Keynes will not be their first fixture of the new season. While Lightning were slugging it out with Phantoms, last year’s runners-up were edging past Swindon Wildcats, before losing to Basingstoke on Sunday.
Meanwhile Guildford Flames picked up back-to-back victories against Telford Tigers and Bracknell Bees to start the new campaign right where they ended the last one – at the top of the table.
Despite their extremely tough test to start the campaign, Rausa is hopeful that Lightning will come good and give the big two a good run for their money.
“It will be a difficult test, but if you were to ask Manchester and Guildford who they don’t look forward to playing then I bet they would say us,” he said.
“Both teams have some outstanding players, but we are very happy with our squad too. I think it’s the best team we have ever put out on the ice.
“The fans expect to be entertained and I’m sure they will be. We’ll be going out to get four points and have a great start to the season.
“We didn’t like letting the fans down last season. I found myself saying sorry to everyone. We don’t want to let them down again.”