By Paul Brookman

Coventry Blaze make their second visit to Planet Ice in 10 days when Smith Recycling Milton Keynes Lightning begin their Challenge Cup campaign with a match up against their closest rivals on Saturday at 7pm.

Blaze will be desperate to avenge the 9-3 defeat they suffered when they came to the city for a pre-season challenge match and they arrive on the back of a mixed opening weekend when they split the spoils with Guildford Flames.

On Saturday they went down 2-1 at the Spectrum Centre with Kelin Ainsworth scored Blaze’s only goal with a late first period powerplay – only to see Flames sniper John Dunbar register for a second time to send the Midlands outfit to defeat.

The following day Blaze made up for that result when Ainsworth added to goals by captain Kevin Morris and Ben Lake to ensure a 3-2 win at the Skydome.

The close season was, like Lightning, one of big changes for Coventry with only four players returning from last season. That number would have been six had netminder Kevin Nastiuk not decided to come back while forward Danick Pacquette let head coach Danny Stewart down by changing his mind about returning after visa delays had been sorted.

Stewart instead signed former Lightning goalie Miika Wiikman as replacement for Nastiuk – joining Milton Keynes local man Jordan Hedley in the netminding duties. Another familiar face to MK fans will be Alex Forbes who lined up in Lightning colours last term.

Stewart is seeking a replacement for Pacquette but admits: “I’m not going to sugar coat it, there isn’t a lot out there at this time of year. It might be a case of a guy not liking a situation and we might see some players making moves and decision.”

Lightning of course have not been without personnel problems – defenceman Nelson Armstrong’s arrival has been delayed by visa delays while Czech defenceman Martin Mazanec was ruled out of last weekend’s games against Sheffield Steelers after it was discovered he had an outstanding suspension to serve from while he was playing on the continent.

Whatever absences there are will not prevent both Lightning and Blaze going full on for that vital win on Saturday. Don’t forget face off is 7pm – buy your ticket on the door or in advance at mk-lightning.co.uk/tickets. Alternatively call us on 01908 540020.

As it’s a Cup game the team will be playing in their pink Cup competition jerseys – and we hope to see as many supporters as possible in pink, too…let’s Pink The Rink to show the team we’re behind them!

On Sunday Lightning travel to Cardiff Devils for another Challenge Cup encounter – face off 6pm. League champions Devils suffered the disappointment of losing out in the group stages of the European Champions League when they lost 3-2 to Swiss side Bern on Sunday. They will no doubt be keen to put that behind them to secure the points against Lightning.

If you can’t make it to Cardiff you can watch the match live on Freesports TV – available on various satellite platforms.