DOUG SHEPPARD says weekends do not come much tougher than what his Bracknell Bees are about to face.
It is a double gameweek on the road for Sheppard’s side as he returns to former club Basingstoke Bison, who sit fourth in the table, on Saturday before visiting third-placed Peterborough Phantoms on Sunday.
Bees themselves sit second and will go into this tricky assignment buoyed by an overtime victory over league leaders Swindon Wildcats at The Hive last time out with Edward Knaggs smashing in the winning goal in the 5-4 success.
And having recently ended a run of three straight losses, Sheppard hopes the confidence gained from beating Swindon will stand them in good stead this weekend.
“To get a big two points against them in our only game of the weekend is obviously a great result,” Bees head coach Sheppard told The Wokingham Paper.
“It’s something we need to feed off of and build some momentum and hopefully get on a bit of a run.
“We have had some tough results recently but it’s a long year and we’ve shown that we’re capable of beating any team in the league.
“We’ve played Peterborough who are top, we’ve beat Swindon now, we beat Basingstoke. I do like the fact that we have shown we can play with anybody in the league.”
He added: “It’s a tough weekend coming up, that’s for sure.
“We’re going into Basingstoke and we haven’t been there this year. We know it’s a tough place to go and Peterborough, we’ve already been there this year and didn’t get a result.
“We’ve got our work cut out this week. We need a good week of preparation and as long as we come out and play our best hockey, we certainly can beat any team in the league.
“It’s not ideal not having a home game but you just go with the schedule however it comes out and you’ve got to play the games as they come.
“This is as tough a weekend as it gets really.”
Just eight points separate the top five sides in the NIHL South 1 as the season approaches its halfway mark.
Bracknell led the way for much of this campaign before their recent wobble saw them replaced by last weekend’s opponents Swindon.
However, Bees were boosted by the return of influential Roman Malinik on Sunday following suspension and he bagged four assists in the victory over the Wildcats.
“Roman is a big part of our team and to get him back in the line-up certainly makes us a better team for sure,” said Sheppard.
“We were missing Vanya (Antonov) on Sunday but we’ve got a very deep team and when guys are missing or guys are hurt, we’ve certainly got the personnel that can step up and contribute I think.
“Zack (Milton) scored a big goal, Knaggs got the overtime winner and Thommo (Shaun Thompson) put one in so the goals are coming from everywhere and I think once we get going, we’ve got the type of team that we can get goals from all over so that’s good to see.”
Saturday sees Sheppard return to Basingstoke for the first time since leaving in May and despite his huge success with the Bison, it could be a frosty reception for the Canadian at Planet Ice.
Having initially joined the club as a player in 2004, the now 41-year-old guided Basingstoke to a treble-winning campaign last year as head coach, but stunned the Bison by turning down a new contract offer to leave and join the Bees over the summer.
He has since brought a number of the successful Basingstoke players with him to The Hive including Josh Smith and netminder Dean Skinns.
And Sheppard admits he is not expecting a particularly friendly greeting from the Bison fans.
“I wish I could say that (it will be) but I don’t think it’s going to go that way if I’m honest,” he said.
“I’ve moved on. I’m putting all my focus and energy into Bracknell and I’m not worried about what’s going on there.
“From what I do hear it probably won’t be the warmest of welcomes.”