MK Lightning Head Coach Pete Russell has spoken of his feelings on the day that the club takes its first step into the top tier of the sport in the UK, following a road game against reigning champions the Cardiff Devils. As if that wasn’t enough of a challenge, Sunday’s first home Elite League fixture pits MKL against last season’s runners up, the Belfast Giants.
A year and a half has passed since Lightning stunned the EPL with the news of their move to the top flight of UK ice hockey, ending a fifteen year residency in the now defunct Premier League. Since then, Coach Russell consolidated his team’s results from his first season with the club – in his second campaign leading them to an EPL Cup and Play Off Tournament double trophy haul.
Over the summer of 2017 the GB coach has reshaped his roster, recruiting a wealth of experience from across the North American and European leagues; net minding duo Przemyslaw Odrobny and Jordan Hedley were retained, alongside promising young British stars James Griffin and Lewis Hook.
Anticipation has built steadily over the close season amongst the team’s fanbase, with a recent ‘Meet The Players’ event seeing the bar at Planet Ice reduced to standing room only, over 250 people attending an open training session and demand for replica jerseys already at an unprecedented level before the season even starts.
“I feel a little emotional about this weekend – and this season,” commented Coach Russell. “Milton Keynes Lightning has a fantastic history and we’re about to take a big step and make a new piece of history – we’re going up to play with the big boys!
“I just feel massively honoured to be a part of this great club and to be taking them into the next chapter. We have a really great group of guys in the locker room – I know they’re very excited about growing together, and facing this challenge together.”
The 2017-18 season marks the first time top flight ice hockey has ever been played in Milton Keynes, and Russell has challenged hockey fans unsure about the quality of the game at this level, to experience it before they make a judgement.
“I know a few people aren’t 100 per cent convinced that Elite League hockey will be as entertaining as the hockey they’ve got used to in the EPL. But we’ve been blown away by the positive reaction to our pre-season games and people have really enjoyed them! Come along to Planet Ice on Sunday for the Belfast match and see it for yourself – and then make up your mind. I think it’s going to be a season to remember!”