Dou­ble Scots on ice is or­der of the day in show­piece fi­nale

The Herald - Herald Sport - - UPDATE -

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.

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