Ondrej makes his Stingrays' return as Valecko's axed
MARTIN Ondrej has made a shock return to Hull Stingrays to replace axed Tomas Valecko.
The Slovakian defenceman yesterday paid the price for eight straight defeats which has seen Stingrays slump to the foot of the Elite League.
After a steady first campaign in Britain, Ondrej told Stingrays he did not wish to return to the UK this season.
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He changed his mind in July, only to find coach Sylvain Cloutier had already filled his roster, and so signed for his home town club HC Presov.
Cloutier's chosen defensive quartet, though, has failed to deliver a watertight backline this season, paving the way for Ondrej's return to training today.
Cloutier said: "Martin was one of the players from last season I wanted back but for personal reasons he decided to stay close to home.
"But we have kept in touch as he really enjoyed his time here before.
"Martin is a good guy in the dressing room. He was very consistent last season, he competes, he keeps things simple and does what you tell him.
"I know what I'm getting with him and he knows what he's getting into with us."
Ondrej's arrival signals the end for Valecko, 27, who joined Stingrays from rivals Edinburgh in the summer and registered four points from his 12 games.
And Cloutier is hoping the 28-year-old Slovakian will provide the competitive grittiness, which tended to be absent from the defensive side of the more attack-minded Valecko's game.
"Martin competes and battles and I'm glad he is back on board," said Cloutier.
"I felt it was time to make a change and shake things up.
"We have been close in most of the games but we need to start winning.
"I feel there is a weakness at the back and it is an area we need to strengthen."
Apart from shipping too many goals, Stingrays are also struggling to find the net up front, with only the Janis Ozolins, Dominic Osman and Matty Davies line really firing on all cylinders.
It has already led to suggestions that Cloutier needs to turn his attention to finding a new forward.
And Cloutier admits if "near-miss" defeats do not soon turn into victories the axe may fall again.
He added: "Tomas has paid the price, but that's not to say he's been totally at fault for our performances.
"I don't want guys squeezing their sticks, but if we don't start scoring more goals we'll have to look at different options.
"Bobby McEwan (Stingrays' owner) and I said on the bus back to Hull after losing to Dundee on Sunday that we need to do what's best for this hockey club.
"And what's good for this hockey club is winning more games."