Cloutier's warning to out-of-form Stingrays players
COACH Sylvain Cloutier is hoping his Hull Stingrays squad don't "force his hand" in the player market.
Stingrays have shipped 25 goals in four straight defeats to now lie outside the Elite League play-off places.
They face the top-four of Nottingham, Belfast, Sheffield and Cardiff before Christmas, followed by Edinburgh and Belfast into the New Year.
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And Cloutier is demanding a rapid upturn in fortunes – starting on Saturday at Hull Arena.
"My hand is not close to being forced, but we can't keep losing like we did in Nottingham on Sunday, otherwise it will be," said the Rapid Solicitors Hull Stingrays coach.
"If we don't improve as a team then we'll have to look at what we can do in the new year.
"There is currently no one on notice. I believe in this group and they believe in each other."
Despite the rocky run – and increasing suggestions Cloutier will ring the changes sooner rather than later – Stingrays' coach appears reluctant to swing the axe.
Although results have tailed off recently, Stingrays won four times in a row in late October and early November, including the scalps of Coventry and Cardiff, to qualify for the Challenge Cup quarter-finals and go top of the Gardiner Conference.
"We have to get back to playing simple hockey and playing as a team," he said.
"This group has proved it is good enough to compete. For three to four weeks we were playing well as a group. There's no reason why we can't come back.
"It's a long season and there will be plenty of ups and downs.
"We've got ourselves into a down and we have to get out of it and pick it up."
Given Stingrays' dismal defensive record, the normal focus of attention would switch to netminder Ben Bowns.
However, given he's only 21, it's his first top-flight season and he's British-born, he looks safe in his starting role.
Indeed, Cloutier appears adamant Bowns is still the man for the job.
"It's a five-man unit, six on the ice, if it hadn't been for Ben it could have been 45 goals against," he said.
It is likely Cloutier is awaiting the return of Cale Tanaka from injury, who is recovering from a shoulder injury.
Once he is successfully integrated back into the line-up, it is possible enforcer Ryan Hand will be used on defence, rather than up front.