Ice Hockey: Monarchs must get motoring after bad start in trophy group

PREDICTING the winner of tomorrow's Grand National would appear to be a doddle compared with trying to forecast which team will eventually top the Premier Trophy northern qualifying group.

Last weekend's opening round of fixtures produced some unexpected results with away wins the order of the day. And that spells trouble for Edinburgh Monarchs unless they can pick up a victory on the road after their 46-44 home loss to Newcastle Diamonds – their first defeat to Premier opposition at Armadale since 2007.

Newcastle then went on to beat Glasgow Tigers 47-43 at Ashfield but, incredibly, went down by the same score in the return on Tyneside on Monday, which put the brakes on their whirlwind start.

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Berwick Bandits are Monarchs' visitors tonight and they put the cat among the pigeons with home and away wins over Workington Comets who, like Monarchs, are pointless so far.

Monarchs, who travel to Berwick for the return tomorrow, haven't been troubled by them at home in recent years but, unless Monarchs eradicate the machine problems and falls which proved manna from heaven for Newcastle, they could be in for another sticky encounter.

The team actually led Newcastle 43-41 going into the last heat but Ryan Fisher and Kevin Wolbert surrendered a 5-1 chance to Kenni Larsen and Rene Bach, which sealed the Diamonds win.

Fisher doesn't always ride with his head and got himself out of position on the second bend.

However, persuading the American to change his cavalier style is a bit like asking Michelangelo to repaint the Sistine Chapel using a tin of Dulux.

"I did get into trouble on the second turn, but I should have made a better start to begin with," said Fisher.

"I would have liked the outside gate, then I could have gone round everybody but Newcastle won the toss for gate positions."

Monarchs boss John Campbell lamented the poor scoring from skipper Matthew Wethers and Andrew Tully but expressed satisfaction with the progress new Hungarian signing Jozsef Tabaka is making.

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Campbell said: "I'm very pleased with what Jozsef is doing and he showed against Newcastle what he is capable of.

"There will be easier opponents who come to Armadale and this should allow him to score more heavily."

Tabaka picked up three points but inadvertently disconnected his cut-out from his bike in his third ride.

"This unsettled him," added Campbell, "but he is capable of getting into scoring positions and holding on to them. Jozsef will probably drop down to reserve after 12 meetings and this should help him get big points for us."

Berwick's double victory against Workington was achieved without Lee Complin, who broke his arm in Bandits' opening match of the season and the club have decided to use rider replacement as cover in the meantime as opposed to bringing in a new face.

Promoter John Anderson said: "We could go out and try to find someone else but the truth is we cannot find a suitable candidate. Now we're into the serious competition we are a better side than people may have realised"

Team manager Dave Peet added: "We have looked at home and abroad but, at this time of the year, many riders have full commitments and we don't want to get into the situation we had last year when riders missed so many meetings for us because they had to ride elsewhere."

Berwick's heroes at Workington were reserve pair Anders Andersen and Craig Branney, who piled up 17 points between them with Andersen winning two races.

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And Testimonial man Michal Makovsky made sure of victory by grabbing second place in heat 15.

Berwick co-owner Lynda Waite commented: "It was a brilliant way to start off our official fixtures.

"Anders had some great moments and Adrian Rymel and Craig were also very buoyant."

With so many topsy-turvy results the northern group may be deemed to be wide open but Monarchs must beat the Bandits to get their challenge back on track.

Edinburgh and Berwick bosses have agreed that season ticket holders at both tracks will gain entry for 2 less than normal prices this weekend.