It’s Different This Year…

2014_Playoffs_FEATURE

Jono Bullard from Cat’s Whiskers TV looks ahead to Play-Off Finals Weekend

The absence of the Nottingham Panthers, while disappointing, hasn’t dampened the anticipation of the upcoming Play-Off Finals for me, in fact I think throughout the whole EIHL they have been the most anticipated for some years. Apart from the non-appearance of the aforementioned Panthers there are several differences this time around. The failure of the Cardiff Devils to make the final four for the first time in the EIHL era; Sheffield Steelers first finals appearance since 2011 & and an appearance by not one but two Scottish teams. The first time any side from North of the border has made a Nottingham finals weekend since Ayr Scottish Eagles in 2002.

The excitement this week in the Kingdom of Fife has been off the scale, an why shouldn’t it be? The Flyers come into the finals as the form team having won their last six straight. They produced an outstanding performance to make the finals by knocking out number two seeded Dundee Stars, the second leg having many Premier Sports viewers on the edge of their seats. It has been an incredible turnaround in form that has seen the Kirkcaldy club make the weekend, winning 15 of 20 games since the beginning of February, including a 6-2 defeat of semi-final opponents Belfast Giants. In that time they have only suffered four regulation defeats, they’re last coming back on the 12th March in Hull. Todd Dutiaume’s side will be full of confidence, however…

Flyers face the league championship winning Belfast Giants in the semi-final! Paul Adey’s men dominated the regular season, winning the Elite League title by a staggering 23 points. While their form has dipped slightly since, they must be considered favourites to add the Play-Off title to the league championship. It certainly won’t be easy for the Giants. Speaking to Patrick Smyth from the ‘A View From The Bridge’ podcast during the week about the match, they certainly won’t be taking the Flyers lightly and he’s expecting a tough game.
Craig Peacock will be a big miss for them through injury and there are concerns over the fitness of captain Adam Keefe who missed the 2nd leg win over Hull, however he is still expected to play.
Giants still have to be considered favourites for me and if they do win the cup on Sunday could anyone really begrudge them that considering the magnificent season they’ve had?

Perhaps the biggest underdogs are Ryan Finnerty’s Braehead Clan. They have been gloriously inconsistent of late, losing their final five regular season games but then thrashing the Panthers 9-1 on aggregate in the quarter finals. Taking such a high profile scalp so easily in the quarters will give them confidence. They are a great side to watch, fluent puck movement and some excellent players of which Ash Goldie is the pick for me. If the Clan are to stand any chance of taking the title they need him on top form, along with netminder Kyle Jones. Finnerty will not need to get pumped up, this is his first finals weekend as coach and he faces the team that dismissed him at the end of last season, the Sheffield Steelers.

Outside of their own fan base Steelers haven’t really been mentioned much as potential winners, however they are in excellent form, losing only twice in 11 games since Gerad Adams took over the coaching reigns. However Jeff Legue will be a big miss for them after a horrendous freak injury saw him take a Chris Blight slap-shot to the face, leaving him with his jaw broken in two places.
The biggest opponents to them making the final and winning the trophy will be themselves. They will be under pressure to perform, it’s over three years since they last won any silverware and their fan base are desperate to see the drought ended.
This is an intriguing match-up, two teams that can be magnificent and terrible, sometimes in the same game! Don’t be surprised if this needs overtime.

Overall I still think Belfast will take it, they have been incredible this season and will surely be hot favourites to take the trophy. However Fife are in great form while Clan & Steelers are more than capable of producing two outstanding performances needed. It should be a great weekend, remember to drink responsibly!

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