Cloutier: Home advantage so vital in cup tie
COACH Sylvain Clouter is urging Hull Stingrays to take full advantage of a home first leg in the Challenge cup quarter-finals against Belfast Giants.
Surprise last-eight qualifiers Stingrays host the Elite League table-toppers at Hull Arena on December 17.
The already-scheduled league fixture in Belfast between the two sides on December 29 now doubles up as the cup's second leg.
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"It's important that we get off to a good start at home, and hopefully have a big crowd to cheer us on to give us extra energy," said Cloutier. "We want to keep it close and give ourselves a chance in the second leg, like we did in the play-offs last season. That's our goal."
And Stingrays are offering specially priced tickets of £10 for adults and £5 for children in a bid to boost crowd numbers in the run-up to Christmas.
Team owner Bobby McEwan said: "We've dropped the ticket prices for this game as a thank-you to fans.
"We've never been in the quarter-finals before and we just wanted to say thank-you for supporting the club."
Stingrays will go into the Cup quarter-finals minus British-born forward Chris Sykes, who has been released from his contract.
Sykes stepped up from the English Premier League side Sheffield Steeldogs in the summer, along with Janis Ozolins and Ben Bowns.
While Ozolins has proved Stingrays' top scorer and Bowns has impressed in goal, Sykes has flown under the radar, with only one goal and one assist from 24 games.
However, Cloutier said Sykes has been released at his own request.
"Chris got promotion at his work, and decided he'd be better off to take his promotion and move on," said Cloutier.
"It's disappointing, but I just want to thank him for joining us and giving it his best shot."
The void on the third line left by Sykes will be filled by 17-year-old Sam Towner, who is in his first full season at Elite League level.
"Sam moved up and played all last weekend on a regular shift. He will be playing again at the weekend in Nottingham. Andy Ward is also back in the line-up," said Cloutier.
"Sam is a very smart little player, and was penalty killing with me on Sunday."
Stingrays appear set to continue their cup escapades without forward Cale Tanaka.
The Canadian forward is currently recovering from a shoulder injury.
He is back in training, but is unlikely to be risked until after Christmas.