Double Scots on ice is order of the day in showpiece finale
ONE is the new kid on the block, mixing it with the school heavyweights and hanging out with the popular posse; the other is the quiet senior pupil at the back of the class who has spent most of the term having their packed lunch pinched. This weekend it’s different: both of them are out to be top boy, writes Scott Mullen.
In the equivalent of a high school prom, Braehead Clan and Fife Flyers will descend on Nottingham for the Elite League Play-off Finals weekend, joining Sheffield Steelers and the Belfast Giants for the biggest prize the British game has to offer. While the pair have become the first Scottish teams to make it this far – Clan have been in existence for only four years – their route to the finals has been a long and winding road for one, and a bit of a crash landing for the other.
Four months ago, in their first season under Ryan Finnerty as head coach, Clan went into a double header against the leaders Belfast with the chance to cut the gap at the top of the table to three points. Instead, Giants extended their lead to 11 points and the defeats not only signalled the end of a serious challenge from Clan, but the start of a topsy-turvy run of form which meant a place in the play-offs was only secured in the last few weeks.
They seem to have got their act together and completed a crushing 9-1 quarter-final win over Nottingham Panthers before a full house of more than 3000 at the Braehead Arena. “It’s a funny game and the mood has been good, but I suppose everything does when you’re going well,” said Clan captain Ash Goldie. “It’s great to get there after the year we have had and especially at a time when we have hit our stride just when we needed it the most.”
The approach of Todd Dutiaume’s Flyers has been entirely different. The Kirkcaldy team remarkably strung together 11 wins from their last 14 games following a campaign of woe to seal a place in the quarter-finals against Dundee Stars, then barged them aside in an 8-4 aggregate victory. Their reward is a date with Giants this afternoon at 1pm, a side they managed to beat in their mesmeric run of wins.
There is little love lost between the Scottish sides, with Matt Nickerson of Fife having earned a 12-match ban – later reduced to nine – after a meeting between the pair in December. While a final between the two would be a dream tie for the 3000-odd Scots heading for the National Ice Arena, Flyers associate coach Danny Stewart will not allow himself to be distracted by speculation. “It’s important we keep an even keel and stay focused on playing good hockey,” he said.