Gordon Shepherd, the head coach of the Scotland women's team, has dropped strikers Sam Judge and Holly Cram, who have 339 caps between them, from his squad of 18 for the forthcoming FIH Champions Challenge at Glasgow National Hockey Centre starting on April 27.

Judge, with 199 caps, and Cram, on 140, have been the cornerstone of Scotland's attack since Shepherd took over more than four years ago.

"Sam and Holly have not been selected because they have not been playing to the level we know they are capable and the level of the other forwards," said Shepherd. "Leaving out players who have been a massive part of the Scotland team over a number of years, and especially what we have been doing over the last four years, was very difficult."

There is a place for Ailsa Wyllie, the Grove Menzieshill striker who was dropped for the EuroHockey Nations Championship in August, but earned her recall with a powerful performance against South Africa two months ago. So the goal-scoring onus will fall principally on Wyllie, Sarah Robertson, Nicola Lloyd, Ali Bell and captain Linda Clement.

The root of Shepherd's problem was the need to reduce his squad to 18 players from the 24 who went to South Africa and the five Great Britain ­players, Amy Gibson, Emily Maguire, Nikki Kidd, Morag McLellan and Bell. "This was extremely difficult; the competition in the squad is very high and everyone is pushing hard to be selected," he said.

Shepherd emphasised: "Selection is based upon those who are playing consistently well, no matter their age or experience, but there is a good mix of experience and youth."

The other obvious omission is that of the Wildcats' defender Kaz Marshall, but she is still recovering from injury and was not ready for consideration. But Shepherd has rung a few other changes: out from last summer's championships is Milne Craig Clydesdale Western's Ali Howie, but there are recalls for ­Clifton's Aileen Davis, the Dundee Wanderers defender Becky Ward and Sarah Robertson of Edinburgh University.

Shepherd was quick to emphasise: "The door [to Commonwealth Games squad inclusion] is not closed on those not picked this time; they will continue to train full-time and will play in friendlies against Wales and Korea. If a player shows up well, she has every chance of being selected for the Commonwealth Games."

Even so, it seems unlikely that Shepherd will make many changes for the Games, for which the squad has to be cut by a further two players to 16.

The opposition in the Champions Challenge is formidable - all sides are higher than the 16th-ranked Scots - and Shepherd's charges start in a pool competition against Belgium (12), India (13) and finally Korea (8). The crucial stage of this competition comes at the quarter-finals; a win here will put the Scots on the road to medals, but defeat brings the spectre of relegation.

Despite the odds, the Scots have a good track record in the competition: they took bronze after a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Spain three years ago and were a creditable fourth a year later. "We will be aiming to make the last four again, but we know this will be very difficult as several of the teams in the tournament are preparing for the World Cup. But if we play to the level we know we are capable of, then we can do well," said a confident Shepherd.

The coach himself is a catalyst; his boundless enthusiasm and charisma has frequently seen the Scots punch above their weight against sides placed above them, so Glasgow Green may witness another such occurrence. Scotland's opening game is against Belgium on April 27, a victory here would give Shepherd's squad a real psychological boost.