LIGHTNING return from something of a Christmas break on Thursday night when they welcome Bracknell Bees to Planet Ice, and general manager Vito Rausa insists there is plenty more still to come from the team.
Following back-to-back defeats to English Premier League big boys Guildford Flames and Manchester Phoenix, Lightning went into an 11-day break with an important victory over Slough Jets, seeing the city side hold on to fourth place in the table at the halfway point of the season.
Winning six games more than they have lost, inconsistent is probably the best word to describe Lightning’s season to date, with fantastic highs, such as beating Manchester and Basingstoke Bison, matched by the lows of defeats to Telford Tigers and Peterborough Phantoms.
In fact one of the first weekends of the campaign set the standard as Lightning were thumped 5-0 away to now league leaders Basingstoke on a Saturday night in late September, before exacting revenge in a 2-1 home victory the following day.
With just two wins out of eight games against the top three sides – both early in the season – Rausa knows where the team needs to improve most going into the new year.
“The good thing is that we still have to play those three teams a few more times,” he said. “So I still think we can break into the top three.
“Holding on to fourth place is going to be crucial, and beating Slough as we did was massive for us. It was a four-point game. And ironically if we remain fourth we’ll probably end up playing Slough in the play-offs.
“The top three is as we expected it to be really. Guildford have a budget twice the size of ours. But we probably would have wanted to be a place higher than we are at this stage of the season – or at least a bit closer to the sides above.”
After Thursday’s clash with mid-table Bracknell, Lightning get their chance to claim another big scalp when they host Basingstoke on Saturday night, before a trip to Peterborough the next day.
Rausa said he would be satisfied with four points out of those three games in three days, but to do that, Lightning will probably need to produce some of their best hockey of the season. Consistency is going to be crucial if they are to upset the status quo.
“Nick (Poole) and I still believe there is plenty more to come from this side,” said Rausa. “We have three very good lines. On our day we’re phenomenal.
“The highlight of the season must be when we demolished Manchester, but we’ve also had some poor results. Losing four points to Telford was just criminal. If we had won those games we’d still be in the cup and one place higher in the league.
“The players have gone home for a few days, and my one Christmas wish is that they all return safely. It’s been a very disjointed season so far and we’ve suffered with injuries and penalties.
“Losing Adam Calder was such a big blow to us but Kamil (Tvrdek) has come in and done very well. He’s got stacks of ability and speed – and everything that we needed.
“Adam is still very much part of this team. He comes to games whenever he can and the players still see him as very much part of MK Lightning.
“The players know they can perform better, and would like to be at least one place higher in the league than we are.
“To get there we need to string a few good victories together. Winning brings confidence and that winning mentality, which is what we’re going to need.”