EPL preview: Teams gear up for play-offs

Basingstoke Bison head into the final weekend of the regular season aiming to complete an EPL double.

Bison secured the league title last weekend and are now targeting success in the end-of-season play-offs.

Doug Sheppard’s team travel to MK Lightning on Saturday, before hosting Guildford Flames the following day, and he has challenged his players to end their season in style.

“The play-offs are such a great one to win, but it won’t be like the league, it’s a one-off,” said Sheppard. “We need to refocus now, and I know my guys want it bad.

“We would love to do it for our fans, and then look back at all of this in the summer to realise what we’ve done.”

Lightning, who were boosted this week by the news that Head Coach Pete Russell has signed a multi-year extension to his contract, are also eyeing play-off success after seeing their title challenge fade away.

Russell said: “It’s the time of year when everyone involved in hockey gets really excited and can’t wait for the play-offs to start.

“It’s a mini season and everyone starts afresh again – we will be ready to go – and we can’t wait to go.”

Telford boss Tom Watkins insists he’s happy for Tigers to face anyone in the play-offs as his team look to bounce back from failing to retain their league title.

The line-up will be confirmed after the final round of games, but Watkins says he’s more concerned with seeing some of his injured players return.

“It will be interesting to see who picks who for the quarter-finals, as the top three teams have that right,” said Watkins. “The mental aspect is that you believe you can beat that particular team.

“If you asked me who I would pick, I don’t know. It’s a very different situation to what we we’re used to, when opponents were chosen automatically. It adds a bit of excitement to it.

“No team has a God-given right to be at the top of the league and it’s up to the coach or manager to get the best out of his players, given whatever circumstances.

“Generally the team that is healthiest all season wins championships. That was the case in Coventry and also here last season, barring a couple of minor injuries.”

WEEKEND FIXTURES

Saturday

Bracknell Bees v Telford Tigers
Guildford Flames v Peterborough Phantoms
Manchester Phoenix v Sheffield Steeldogs
MK Lightning v Basingstoke Bison
Swindon Wildcats v Hull Pirates

Sunday

Basingstoke Bison v Guildford Flames
Hull Pirates v MK Lightning
Manchester Phoenix v Bracknell Bees
Peterborough Phantoms v Sheffield Steeldogs
Telford Tigers v Swindon Wildcats

(Image permission: Tony Sargent)

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