SHANE Moore might have bags of respect for Tony Hand but he insists Wildcats can live with the Scot’s Manchester side - and any team in the English Premier League - ahead of tomorrow’s curtain-raiser at the Link Centre (5.45pm).
Given that veteran player-coach Hand became the first-ever British-trained player to be drafted by an NHL side and has scored more than 4,000 points in his career, Moore believes he holds a special place in British ice hockey’s hall of fame.
But that does not stop Swindon’s defenceman from thinking his own side can begin their campaign with a two-point win against the 45-year-old Phoenix supremo and his troops.
“Tony’s been going for years but he’s a workhorse and I think any team in the country would be privileged to have him,” said Moore.
“You can’t deny the fact that the guy’s a legend of British ice hockey and is such a smart player, you’ve got to be very careful when you play against him.
“He’s got experience and knows who to bring in because he’s worked out the league now. I think the first time he dropped down to this league, he didn’t really know what to expect, but he learnt quickly, he’s a good coach and a good player.
“But equally, we’ve put together a strong team and I truly believe that we can play against anyone in this league.
“We’ve kept the same group of guys from last year and that gives us a big advantage, and we’ve brought in imports who are going to put the puck in the net.
“As last year showed, the bottom teams can beat the top teams and I think the league is going to be the same this year, so I’m very confident going into the game.”
Manchester’s preparation has been hamstrung by the release this week of Finland winger Timo Kuuluvainen, who has failed to recover following a knee operation in the summer.
However, the Phoenix still have Norwegian forward Joachim Flaten and Czech D-men Robert Schnabel and Ondrej Pozivil in their ranks, all of whom are new to the EPL.
On Sunday, Wildcats travel to Sheffield and Moore expects the Steeldogs to have a similar campaign to the one that saw them finish third in the regular season in 2011/12.
“Sheffield have got a fairly new coach in Andre Payette but I think he proved himself last year,” said Moore.
“Some people were saying they were a two-man team with (Janis) Ozolins and (Ben) Bowns, but I don’t think that’s the case.
“They have replaced well, have got some good imports coming through and have got the Brit talent.
“They have got probably one of the best defensive units in the league, they play tough hockey and have a good goalie in Dimitri (Zimozdra).
“He was their backup last year but given the chance he will still be a top-six goalie in the league.”
Swindon netminder Tom Murdy is still struggling with a groin injury so may not play against Manchester or Sheffield, while head coach Ryan Aldridge is to delay naming a permanent captain for 2012/13 until after the weekend.