ADMITTEDLY, nothing is certain in sport, but Bracknell Bees will surely open their NIHL campaign with a victory, writes Dave Wright.

Their visitors to the Hive this Saturday (6pm) will be Romford-based London Raiders, the team they hammered twice last weekend, winning 5-2 away and 6-3 in their final friendlies.

So it will be a major surprise if the Berkshire Cycles-backed Bees fail to complete an eight-day treble and put their first South One points on the board.

Their much-changed side always looked far too good for their rivals, making it an encouraging start for new head coach Doug Sheppard.

“Yes, it was a good weekend for us. We have been working hard since the start of pre-season,” he said. “It was nice to see all the guys contributing, but we do need to tighten things up in the defensive zone.”

He added: “After two wins, we are feeling pretty good. We play with confidence and I think we will be a tough team to beat, but it is still early doors.”

But Sheppard is taking nothing for granted despite last week’s double, saying: “We expect to see a different London team when the league starts.”

His team started their final friendlies by netting early goals on both nights. At Romford, Shaun Thompson and Aidan Doughty put Bees two-up inside the opening eight minutes.

The hosts pulled one back from Ollie Baldock before James Galazzi made it 3-1 by the end of the first period.

The scoring was completed in the middle period with Scott Spearing and Ben Paynter on target either side of JJ Pitchley netting a second for Raiders.

Vanya Antonov was voted Bees’ man of the match and it was the Russian who got the scoring underway on Sunday – with just 21 seconds on the clock.

Romford brought netminder Dean Skinns into action, but Bees doubled their lead through Doughty.

For the second day running, the second period saw plenty of goalmouth action. Brendan Baird added a third before Raiders opened their account through Dan Scott.

Roman Malinik, closer to the halfway line than the goal-line, unleashed a low thunderbolt to make it 4-1 and Josh Smith had time to wrong-foot Ben Clements before slotting home goal number five.

Raiders reduced their deficit via Mason Webster on power-play, but the margin was quickly restored to three goals with Doughty scoring his second and Bees’ sixth.

Bracknell were unable to add to their tally in the final 20 minutes, while Raiders managed just one, courtesy of Webster, who was later voted his side’s man-of-the-match with two-goal Doughty taking the Bees’ award.

The prizes were presented by the Mayor of Bracknell Town, Cllr Sandra Ingram, on a night she was promoting the youth and creative arts programme at South Hill Park.

The Bees themselves are also looking to the younger generation in a bid to boost their match-night attendances.

They recently launched their Schools Programme and already it is looking very popular. Sheppard commented: “We have 32 schools signed up and each has 20 tickets for our first league game this Saturday, so if everyone uses their tickets then we will have a big crowd, of around 700, even more.”

Bees will go into the league season short of a foreign player following a late ruling by the league.

“We are missing an import as the team have received a four-game ban held over from last season. It was decided very late,” said Sheppard. It follows the 18-match suspension imposed on Frankie Bakrlik last March.

Bees did sign another Czech, Tomas Karpov, for this season, but the player then left to take up a top job back home, and he was quickly replaced by Karel Richter, only for him to be released last week.

“I’ve made this decision based on what I feel is best for the club and it gives Karel time to find another club,” explained the head coach.

After facing the Raiders again on Saturday, Bees go to Invicta Dynamos on Sunday (5.15pm). The Gillingham-based squad includes former Bracknell duo Matt Foord and Callum Best.