After narrowly missing out on the league title, you would have expected a more determined Cardiff Devils to come out the blocks and grab this season firmly.
It maybe hasn’t quite happened that way at times due to the quality of the rest of the league which has led to results and points not coming as they used to.
But the fact the Devils are even in the Challenge Cup Final is something for head coach Andrew Lord to be pleased about, especially after an indifferent group stage.
Regardless, they are there for their fifth final appearance in six years and Lord is as excited for this final as he was for his first in 2015 when they beat Sunday’s opponents, Sheffield Steelers, on that occasion too.
“Reaching a final is definitely as special now as it was when it first happened for us and I think back to the first one we reached in Sheffield in the first year under the ownership with a team thrown together,” he said.
“It’s a great record to have and it’s what you want to do, to be in the big games and we’ve managed to do that consistently since the ownership group came in six years ago,” he said.
“To get back again is amazing and we have to make it or people get mad at us or me, for not doing so. We have a great opportunity and with it on home ice, it’ll be rocking with two fan bases who don’t particularly like each other.
“It’s been a great run and while the wins are awesome, the losses are miserable, but I think getting there on a regular basis is something to be proud of and definitely something special.”
The 35-year-old looked back at the campaign so far, where they emerged from their group second to Guildford Flames and didn’t have it their own way at times as they tried to adapt from having played in the CHL.
The quarter finals gave them a new lease of life and since then, have looked more like the Devils side we all know and Lord reckons the character they’ve shown could make a difference.
He added: “We were a little sloppy in the first round robin stage and it was a different format and managed to limp our way through.
“We’ve been good ever since and the Belfast game in the quarter final was perhaps our best hockey, picking up the two shutouts.
“Nottingham was also a great series and we kind of fell behind, but hung in there. We certainly didn’t have our best two periods in the away game, but came up with a real special 20 minutes in the third and if we can pull this off in the final, we can look back on it as a real turning point.”
It’s the third time Lord will come up against Sheffield Steelers in the Challenge Cup Final and his two previous successes, in 2015 and 2017 have come at the expense of them.
That experience for him and his players and of the showpiece one-off could make a difference as they chase the trophy again.
But Lord is under no illusion of the task ahead as he took a look at the opposition and the sort of quality Aaron Fox has in his ranks.
Lord said: “We’re in the final against a really difficult team and I hope the experience of these games will count for something on the day, but it’s a one-off game where anything can happen and it’s not like we’re playing a team with a bunch of 20-year-olds.
“They’re loaded with tons of firepower with players from very good leagues and they’ve had a great season so far. I’m sure it’ll be a great occasion and it’ll come down to execution on the night and a play or two that could make the difference.
“I wouldn’t say there’s one player in particular to watch for. Probably all of them actually. They have a very high offensive capability, starting with their D core and their goalie has been excellent in recent weeks too.
“Up front, guys like Brendan Connolly, John Armstrong and Marc-Olivier Vallerand are effective and as skilled as they are, they play a direct game. There’s definitely a blend there of how they produce offence and something for us to watch for.”