NOTTINGHAM PANTHERS’ coach Corey Neilson may well tie the ribbons around their first League championship trophy in more than half a century tonight.
But Sheffield Steelers’ counterpart Ryan Finnerty won’t allow what could be a massive psychological blow to impact on his own team’s Challenge Cup and Play Off aspirations.
While some fans and ex-players are in a strop over the main trophy going to their club’s biggest rivals, Finnerty has to avoid any negative backlash.
“Our guys may feel they have failed because there is massive pressure to win at our club, as there is at Nottingham and Belfast” he said. “But that feeling can suck the life out of you, if you let allow it. I’ve seen it before, in fact it happened last year (when Belfast won the title.) You have to pick yourself up and work through it. The only way to do that is to play games and work hard, like the character win at Cardiff last Sunday.”
Finnerty said his players felt they had let people down. “We have to focus on the two trophies available and just roll with the pressure and block out the outside world.”
The coach said he’d rather be the target for any stick that is being handed out, rather than see his players undermined.
“Give me that fan hatred every day, I don’t care. As long as the players don’t get it I’m happy.”
Panthers’ centreman Matthew Myers is confident the League title will become their property tonight. “Just like we did against Sheffield last weekend, we will play smart and grind out a win if necessary” he said.
A Panthers’ title has been some time in coming - the 1955-6 season, to be precise. It will be Sheffield Steelers’ quest to ensure their rivals do not build on that over the years to come.
n Panthers goaltender Craig Kowalski has been named Elite Player of the Week.