Well that’s it for another year, the regular season has finished and we have only two weeks of hockey left! Then we will have to put up with football for another couple of months before the countdown to 09/10 begins! Anyway for today’s post I wanted to preview the finals match ups and offer my own thoughts on what may happen, what I want to happen and a quick summary of who will be key for each team. This years match ups genuinely offer a few surprises and potential slip ups. I can honestly see a situation where none of the top 4 make it. It wont happen but there could be a few surprise packages in Nottingham on the 4th April!
Anyway onto the quarter final games:
Sheffield Steelers vs Edinburgh Capitals
Well this is an interesting tie, and one which may not be as clear cut as you may think. The big thing about playoff hockey is that any game is for the taking, league placings count for nothing come finals hockey. Added to this the Steelers have really been coasting coming into the playoffs and the Caps have hit a great run of form to take them clear of Hull in 8th. Another thing in the Caps favour is having the first leg in Sheffield, and Ice Sheffield for that matter. A rink that, even Steeler fans themselves, admit has not been the happiest hunting ground for the Steel machine. So if the Caps can keep it close or tied down in Sheffield they must fancy their chances back on home ice!
Steelers player to watch: Well you cant look past Jody Lehman really! This man has been in scintillating form all season backstopping a team to only 6 regulation losses all season. This man is the main reason behind the Steelers success this season!
Capitals player to watch: Has to be Mark Hurtubise, this man has simply been awesome for the Capitlals. A man who has stuck with them all season and fell just two points shy of the magical 100 point barrier. If he hits top form against the Steelers he could send the Capitals to Nottingham.
Who will win: In my heart of hearts I want the Caps to win, just upset the cart and provide some intrest in Nottingham. I recon there will be 8 sets of supporters behind the Caps in this one! However if I listen to my head I can see the Steelers winning this, they have been a ruthless machine for most of the season and can wipe the floor with anyone on their day. Ill go for a tight Steelers win, but will hope for different!
Coventry Blaze vs Newcastle Vipers
This is another playoff pairing which could well throw up a surprise. Coventry are not the dominating force they used to be, and in Perras they have a good nettie but not one in top form like Lehman. Newcastle on the other hand have a fast team, but one suffering from injuries. The other thing that may hinder them is their tendency to spend most of the game in the penalty box, and with the Blaze having players such as Calder and Deschatelets that could be terminal!
Blaze player to watch: Difficult to pick on guy out when the Blaze have 4 players with 70+ points for the season. But im going for Adam Calder, a second stonking year and only piped to the scoring post by David Alexandre Beauregard. Still a class player!
Vipers player to watch: Not sure who to go for on the Vipers roster, so ill pick David Longstaff, the only reason being his annoying habit of being able to rack up points against the Phoenix! Despite how old and silly he looks he is still a vital cog in the Viper machine!
Who will win: I think this one is fairly simple to predict, while it is playoff hockey and anyone can win. I think recent injuries will hurt Newcaslte and ultimately Coventry should have the strength in dept to see them to Nottingham.
Nottingham Panthers vs Manchester Phoenix
Well this is the tie everyone on either side seemed to want, and for the same reasons too! Both sets of fans believe they can beat each other! Plus you could argue the Knockout Cup on Thursday could be ideal preparation for the Panthers. This will be a great tie and, putting aside my Phoenix tinted specs, I think this is the ite of the finals weekend! If they want to both teams can get the puck and play fast flowing hockey with scant regard to defence! They key for Nottingham is to get a good lead from the first leg in the NIC, the key for the Phoenix is to keep it close and look forward to the home leg in Alty. This second leg is already shaping up to be another ‘game of the season’ with ticket sales going very well we could have our second sell out, and anyone who has seen the Ice Dome full and in full flow will agree it’s a sight and sound to behold! In that atmosphere I fancy a Phoenix victory.
Panthers player to watch: Seeing as though Dan Tessier is injured I have to go for Brendan Cook. Leading the Panthers in scoring he could lead them to the finals.
Phoenix player to watch: I desperately don’t want to pick the obvious, but I cant! The key man will be David Alexandre Beauregard. The man is simply an awesome player and deserves his position at the top of the Elite League pile. If Nottingham don’t shut down our first line we could well see the Phoenix in Nottingham and not the hosts.
Who will win: It depends on the first leg for me, if we keep it close I really fancy the Phoenix to win. Even my head thinks we can do it, we have always had close games with the Panthers and either team has beaten each other on their home ice! So ill stick my head out and go for a Phoenix victory.
(Come on you cant be surprised! A Phoenix blog predicting a Phoenix victory?)
Belfast Giants vs Cardiff Devils
Probably the third tie where a top 4 team could be surprised! While the Giants recent form has not been great they also have the distraction of the Knockout Cup final on Thursday. While this may well have no effect on the Giants it will still be a hard fought tie. The Giants/Devils have worked up quite a rivalry this season and things could get sticky! Two evenly matched teams will face off in the O for the first leg, then its all back to the big blue tent for the second leg! Much like the Phoenix, if the Devils keep it close in the O I fancy them to take it on home ice!
Giants player to watch: Has to be Paul Deniset, with something like 3 hatricks in 3 different games in Altrincham id love to see this guy pull on a Phoenix jersey!
Devils player to watch: Im not going for the obvious top scorers on the Devils roster, no, im going for possibly the most hated player on Elite Ice. Step forward Mr Brad Voth, this man is simply Mr Cardiff Devils. While he is not the flashiest of players, on every Devils visit to Altrincham he manages to stir things up and get a few points on the board!
Who will win: This will be the tightest tie of the quarter finals and one which will be keenly fought. Even though the Giants have two cups in the bag already I do fancy the Devils to win this. They have hit form at just the right time, and always have a nack of reaching the finals weekend!
So there we have it, my predictions for finals weekend! Im really looking forward to the 4/5th April even if the Phoenix don’t make it! I really fancy this year as the year for a surprise and if my predictions come through it could be a weekend that shakes the established order in the Elite League.
So have fun this weekend everyone! In the next day or two ill post a quick few thoughts on Thursdays Knockout Cup second leg. A cup, which many fans, from so-called ‘larger’ clubs seem now to dismiss! Im sorry but it’s a piece of silverware isn’t it! Hopefully this blog will also have some information on the extensive fan coverage of finals weekend!
So keep your eyes and ears peeled this could be a cracking end to the season!