What a play off series: Sheffield Steelers face their arch rivals the Nottingham Panthers in this weekend’s quarter finals.
So much to gain, so much to lose, that’s what makes this pairing so exciting.
In the two fan bases there will be nerves like never before. If you are to win the series then there is no team you would rather play and beat than Panthers (and vica verca.)
But, if you are to lose, well then there is no team on earth that you’d want to lose to less than them – especially with a weekend at the play off’s to look forward too/endure.
Everything hangs on the line. The importance is so high, maybe even more so than winning the eventual play off finals a week later. Coaches wouldn’t take this option but if I offered fans of either side a guarantee they would make it to the finals but wouldn’t win the whole thing then I think the majority of both Steelers and Panthers fans would take it.
So what are the keys going into Saturday’s fixture in Nottingham and Sunday’s 5pm return leg at Sheffield Arena?
The coaches. We have the two most successful coaches in Elite League history. Thompson who has made a career winning league titles and Neilson who is a specialist in this, the shorter format competition. I don’t think these two would stand along side one another at a party, I don’t see anything they share in common other than being 24 hour a day, 7 days a week hockey nerds. They both live and breathe it. They both will share the same few hours sleep this week preparing for the series.
Whilst I think it’s fair to say they aren’t overly keen on one another I think they do share a mutual respect. They have been rivals for the past decade. They have both delivered for their clubs, won trophies consistently. Their jobs come with the most pressure. Fans of both teams have big expectations. Those who knock them have no idea what it’s like to be either of them or what their job consists of. Win or lose they both will be drained, out on their feet come Sunday evening.
Goaltending: Mustukovs v Wiikman: On present form, Moose that leads the way. He completed the regular season with a 91.2% saves percentage, the best in the League. Moose gives you a chance to win every night, he will need to be a brick wall in Nottingham on Saturday but he hasn’t let us down all year. Wiikman is Panthers’ main man.
Key players. For Steelers its easy just to say Roy and Fretter, because come the big moments that is who you normally look too, your best players. Every team will do that. Nottingham will look to Williams and Schultz in the same way.
Roy is a man for the big occasion, a natural goal scorer. Fretter is maybe the most skilled genius in the league. Here is the player I’m looking too: Levi Nelson. The Valdix, Nelson and Dowd line have been incredible for weeks. The bigger the occasion the taller Nelson gets. That trio will be a lot more than just a supporting cast this weekend.
Toughness. Big hits, energy, competitiveness will as always be part of a play off series. How many fights do you see in the play offs? Probably zero is the answer.
In Zack Fitzgerald and Brian McGratton you have two experienced, professional enforcers. They will be both ready but I think in more of a policeman role than and brawling role this weekend. If needs must though you know they won’t think twice. Neither will the likes of Desbiens or Brown.
Both teams are equipped for however these two games pan out.
It’s another reason we are all intrigued.
Don’t write off the Panthers, they have their rocks as well. There rocks need to deliver as they have underachieved.
Their coach has called them out, he isn’t happy with his group at all. Lawrence can hurt you within a blink of an eye. David Clarke always performs against the Steelers, keeping him off the scoresheet will be pivotal.
Can the Panthers beat us without David Clarke scoring this weekend?
In saying all of that, if one chance falls to one player this weekend let it fall to the King. He will be hoping the puck comes to him in that big moment, he will want it, go searching and hunting for it. Why? Because he knows that’s his job, to deliver on the big stage.
That’s why he is the King, that’s why we love Mathieu Roy.