No room for error as Dragons look forward to new Belgian season

KHC Dragons’ Felix Denayer says his side will need to extremely consistent if they are to retain their Belgian Honor Division title.

They overcame a slow first half of the season to storm to the title with a brilliant second phase of the campaign to win their 12th crown.

Since then, they had added Olympic gold medalist Simon Gougnard to the line-up along with strong Irish defender Conor Harte while goalkeeper Loic van Doren returns to the fold.

It puts them into the favourites position but Denayer knows there are many sides in contention.

“Like every year, the club obviously has certain ambitions,” he told the Hockey Belgium website. “We will obviously aim for another title but our preparation has not been very long, especially for the Olympians.

“Everyone is well aware that we will have to be ready very quickly with the new championship formula and the return to a more linear competition.

“We will therefore not be able to afford a similar start to our season as was the case last year. We will no longer be able to make such a comeback which allowed us to cap the national laurels last May.”

Last term, the top eight sides all advanced from the first phase of the season into two groups of four from which the semi-finalists were decided. This term, it will be a straight league with the top four advancing to the playoffs.

And Denayer says this means less room for error, especially in a busy season which also has the ABN AMRO Ranking Cup fast approaching at the end of this month.

“That is a first important objective which will take place in Brasschaat in October. We will have to be ready very quickly. We will have to raise the level of play and we will not be able to just focus on the process.

“The new championship formula changes everything. It will not be easy to place in the top four at the end of the classic phase given the strong competition this season. We will have formidable opponents who will try to prevent us from winning a new league title.”

As for the squad this term, he is looking forward to seeing how the new players bed in with Cedric Charlier moving back to Racing Club de Bruxelles, Tobias Walter to Braxgata, Bozz Willaert to Almere while Luke Noblett and Louis Rombouts have also finished up at the club.

There is also a coaching change with Gilles van Hesteren switching to SCHC in the Netherlands with Dennis Dijkshoorn coming in.

“We wanted to compensate for departures without losing quality. We are also extremely satisfied to have been able to attract Simon Gougnard or Conor Harte and to have convinced Loic Van Doren to return to Brasschaat.

“But it’s up to them to immediately demonstrate that they bring real added value to the group. These are indeed players who have solid international experience. But I repeat, there are a lot of candidates for a place in the top four.”