Guildford Flames begin the defence of their EPL play-off title on Wednesday when they visit league champions Telford Tigers to kick-off their group round schedule.
This season’s format features two groups of four teams playing each other home and away, with the top two in each section qualifying for the finals weekend at Coventry.
Flames’ boss Paul Dixon admits the play-offs are an opportunity to make amends for what he believes was a disappointing league campaign.
“We’ve not achieved this season what we felt was the potential of the team we put together,” said Dixon.
“We started the season with almost the same roster that won a couple of trophies last year, including the play-offs, so there’s no question we had high expectations for success again.
“We certainly played better, and had better results, in the back half of the season, and we want to take a serious run at defending our play-off title.
“There is a lot of work ahead just to get out of our group. Every team is a good side, and it certainly is not made easy when one of your group mates are the league champions and have lost only five regulation games all season.
“It is an exciting challenge, and we are really looking forward to getting to it on Wednesday night.”
The Tigers’ title-winning squad will be told to treat the game against the Flames like the start of a new season.
Head Coach Tom Watkins believes the form book will become meaningless when the play-offs get underway.
He said: “Everything happens much more quickly in the play-offs and the intensity levels for both teams will be much different.
“We have to think of it as the start of a new season and we’ll have different goals. Commitment levels will be up with everybody.
“It is a short format competition and one that everybody on all the teams raise their game for.
“It’s the finale to the season, so all of us want compete well and get to the final four tournament on Coventry.
“We’ll start again, identify roles and responsibilities again, and do whatever it takes. What’s done is done and it will be good for us to get back into playing really competitive games.
“We’ve had a few weekends to recharge our batteries, so it will be fun to play back-to-back, in your face and having to grind out results. That will be important.”
Peterborough Phantoms’ Head Coach Slava Koulikov believes making the most of home advantage will be the key to reaching the finals weekend.
The Phantoms host Sheffield Steeldogs on Wednesday and Koulikov is keen to see his team kick-off with a victory.
“The way I look at it, eight points will guarantee us a place at Coventry, seven points will give us a good chance, but six points might put it out of our hands,” he told Peterborough Today.
“Basically we’e looking for four wins from the six games and it is essential we make the most of our home games.
“If we can be successful in all of them and pick up another victory on the road, we should be in a position to get through.
“It will be far from easy, though. We have the champions, a very strong Guildford team who have had a tough season by their standards, and a Sheffield side who are capable of turning up and getting results if they’re on song.
“The play-offs are like nothing else. Any team can win any game. It is hard and ruthless hockey where every single period matters.”
Swindon Wildcats Player/Coach Aaron Nell says the revised format has increased the prestige of the play-offs.
The Wildcats kick-off their campaign with a trip to MK Lightning and Nell is excited by the new challenge.
“I love how the play-offs have been restructured – everywhere the play-offs are done over a longer period so it good that we are now doing that here, it makes them much more important,” he told the Swindon Advertiser.
“Before you could have a four-game hot streak and you’d win the play-offs now you’ve got eight to win it and the best team will come out on top”
Basingstoke Bison v Hull Pirates
MK Lightning v Swindon Wildcats
Peterborough Phantoms v Sheffield Steeldogs
Telford Tigers v Guildford Flames
(Image permissions: Olly Birth & Tony Sargent)