SCOTT SPEARING believes Bracknell Bees are in a better place to challenge in the play-offs this season.
Spearing, who served as head coach alongside his playing duties in 2017/18, led Bees to fifth in the NIHL South 1 table before suffering a disappointing 10-7 aggregate loss against Romford Raiders in the play-offs.
Now player-assistant under new coach Doug Sheppard, Spearing is hoping to right the wrongs of 12 months ago against the same opponents, who Bees beat 4-2 on Sunday to round off the regular season.
After finishing fourth in the standings, the first leg of the play-off quarter-finals are away on Saturday (5.15pm) before Bracknell welcome Raiders to The Hive for the second leg on Sunday evening (6pm).
“I think we’ve let ourselves down a little bit with not getting silverware already and not getting through to where we should’ve been,” Spearing told The Wokingham Paper.
“But everyone’s hungry to win and it’s a good group of guys.
“Everybody knows how to win and the guys that have come from Basingstoke have won in the past, as recently as last year, so that’s what you need.”
He added: “I think Doug’s improved on the team from what we had last year.
“I think we’re stronger. We’ve had the upper hand on Raiders, we beat them in the series throughout the league and now we’re going to go into the play-offs with a lot of confidence.
“We’re really going to step our game up.
“It’s good to have that little bit of bitterness from last year to be hungry to try and get that win and beat Romford in the first round.
“The guys that we’ve got have been around for a long time and they’ve won trophies in the past.
“Joe Baird won in the play-offs before at Bracknell, Gazza (James Galazzi) has been there, myself and Skinnsy (Dean Skinns) as well.
“It’s going to be fun. I look forward to the play-offs, it’s the best part of the year.”
On paper, Bees will head into the end of season competition as underdogs.
Swindon Wildcats won the league, three places and 12 points better off than Bracknell, while Peterborough Phantoms and Basingstoke Bison also finished clear of Sheppard’s men.
But with two spots up for grabs at the finals weekend in Coventry, Spearing is confident the Bees are good enough to emerge triumphant.
“There’s no point in playing hockey if you don’t think you’re going to win,” he said.
“It’s as simple as that. We’ve got every chance.
“All season long we’ve proved we’re more than capable of competing, if not beating quite comfortably, every team.
“I think we’ve outplayed Swindon this year by a long way and they were probably the strongest team we faced all year.
“I think we’ve just let ourselves down in certain situations.
“With a new group of guys it’s inevitable that with changing things around and new systems with Doug, it’s difficult to get used to.
“But it’s been a long time now and we’re just waiting for that little spark that will get going and then nothing will stop us. We’ve just got to get that spark going.”
Spearing, who received a special award for making 400 Bracknell Bees appearances at the weekend, briefly returned to running the bench in recent weeks as Sheppard sat out a two-game suspension.
But he admits that Sheppard’s arrival has given him more freedom to concentrate on his own on-ice performance, while also gathering more coaching knowledge along the way.
“It’s a lot less stressful,” said Spearing.
“I can focus on trying to play myself as much as possible.
“Doug’s obviously brought in a lot of new systems which is great because it’s just more for me to learn from. It’s all going well.
“If your mind is in two places, it’s never going to be doing as good of a job as it could be when you’ve got one thing on your mind.
“It’s going to help everyone’s game and I like the way we’ve got a lot of depth on the team, so it gives everyone a good rest.
“There’s no excuses for not being able to fly.”