LIGHTNING have made two last minute forward signings as they gear up for the start of the new season against old foes Peterborough Phantoms at the Thunderdome on Saturday.
Ross Bowers has returned to the Lightning roster after a year playing for English National League Milton Keynes Thunder, while Jamie Line, who started the previous season sharing his time with Thunder and Lightning and ended the campaign full time with the senior outfit, is also back.
Both signatures were revealed at last night’s annual meet the players event held at the Campanile Hotel in Fenny Stratford.
Saturday’s home game faces off at 7pm and is the first of two clashes with Phantoms as the sides do battle in the annual Ashes Trophy competition – the return leg is at Peterborough on Sunday at 5.30pm.
Lightning team manager Vito Rausa said he was delighted with the return of both Bowers and Line ahead of their double-header against Phantoms, with Lightning’s opening English Premier League outing at home to Manchester Phoenix coming a week later.
He said: “Ross is probably the most natural goal scorer that we have had apart from Gary Clarke and he’s an important addition.”
Rausa said Lightning will boast 11 forwards this season – three of whom, Leigh Jamieson, Adam Carr and Blaz Emersic, can also play in defence. And he believes that strength in depth will be important when there are injuries throughout the campaign.
The manager also believes that this season’s number two netminder Alex Mettam will put top choice Barry Hollyhead under intense pressure for the number one spot.
“I expect Alex to get more exposure to the big games and he will get better and better. I know our team is just as comfortable with Alex in the nets as they are with Barry,” he said.
Lightning have added just new two players this summer, with the majority of last year’s squad returning after they ended the EPL season in fifth place and reached the play-off final, losing out to Guildford Flames.
The two newcomers are defenceman Tom Norton, signed from Elite League side Nottingham Panthers, and former National Hockey League draft pick Juraj Gracik from Slovakia.
Speaking ahead of this weekend’s highly anticipated games, player-coach Nick Poole said: “Reclaiming the Ashes would clearly be a great way to prepare for the start of the league season.
“We fell a little short at the Phantoms’ barn last year, but we’ve strengthened and freshened up our roster over the summer, we all know where we went wrong last season and we’ll be working hard to cut out the mistakes this year.”
Although billed as challenge games, such is the rivalry between Lightning and Phantoms that they will certainly be full blooded affairs and the perfect warm up for the first league game the following weekend at home to league champions Phoenix.
Last season saw Lightning go down 7-6 on aggregate to Peterborough after winning the home leg 5-4.
Poole added: “We have an awesome level of support especially at our home rink, and the Ashes matches give our fans the chance to help fire us up for the season to come – and the team get the chance to get into top gear in time for starting our league push next week.
“We’re all looking forward to hearing our fans in full voice once again and to putting down a marker for the season to come.”