Nottingham Panthers legend David Clarke sees no reason why his former team can’t return from Denmark with another Continental Cup title under their arms.
Tim Wallace’s side will do battle with hosts Sønderjyske, Neman Grodno of Belarus and Polish side Carcovia Krakow at the Frøs Arena in Vojens for the trophy, which starts on Friday.
And Clarke believes that such is the standing of clubs from the Elite League now, there’s a disappointment if EIHL don’t go on to claim the glory.
“I don’t see why Panthers can’t win it and if you look at the teams that have reached this stage in recent years, since we won it in 2017, Sheffield would have been disappointed at not achieving what they wanted to the year after,” he said.
“Belfast, for me, should have won the competition last season and deserved it with the team they had.
“As a league, I think we‘ll definitely be disappointed if we don’t win it which is a reflection of how far the league has come and the talent there is.
WATCH: Nottingham Panthers – Continental Cup winners 2017
“Panthers are coming into it as a favourite and their form of late leads me to think why not. The Elite League is a very good league and they’ll match up with any competition they have coming up.
Clarke didn’t play in the 2017 success, when Corey Neilson led Panthers to European success in Ritten, do to a concussion, but was part of the coaching team as they created history for British club sides on the continent.
The former winger, who retired as a player a year later, spoke of what the feeling would be like the day before the tournament and reflected on what he called his own “frustrating” experience from three years ago, plus adding his insight into a tournament where so much happens so quickly.
He added: “I think the players will be excited about it. They got through the previous round very well and the guys are going back to a place they already know from the last round, plus they know one of the teams they’ve already played against.
“They’ll be quietly confident and will be looking forward to getting into the main chunk of that tournament.
“Looking back to three years ago, I didn’t play in the finals weekend, as I had a concussion, but I was part of the coaching team, which was unbelievable, but also very frustrating not being able to play.
“Now that I’ve retired, I can say I coached at that level of tournament, supporting Corey and getting a different perspective of that competition so I was privileged to do that.
“I was fortunate to win it as a player, even though I didn’t play, but the experience of a tournament so intense and prestigious and pretty cool.
“It’s a challenging weekend because the outcomes can still depend on what the other teams are doing in the other games. You could win the first two games and still need to win the third game to win it.
“Alternatively, you can still win the first two in overtime and go into the last game as a winner takes all. As it’s a four-team round robin, you can’t rest on anything and you have no idea what’s going to happen.
“It’s a strategic environment and it’s important to not burn out your players after the first game because you’ll more than likely need them to give some more in the last game. A lot of it comes down to bench management and getting guys to be able to perform for 60 minutes for three consecutive nights.”
And Clarke also gave his verdict on Panthers coach Tim Wallace, who took over from Rick Strachan at the start of the season and believes he’s grown into the job after a tricky start.
He said: “Tim has grown and coming to Nottingham was always going to be a different challenge to what he had last year. He and Gui Doucet have always had their intentions on how to build a winning team and it’s been a progress.
“The pieces they’ve brought in with Hansen, Horvat and Talbot have had a massive impact on the team and that’s enabled them to find what was missing back at the start of the season.
“You look at the Panthers being one of the in-form teams and are right in the mix when you look at the standings.
“Sheffield have had a great start, Belfast have been up and down at times while Cardiff seem to be the team that’s most consistent, but I wouldn’t put the Panthers too far behind that group.
“They beat those teams consistently and since Tim made those adjustments, he can definitely be happy at what’s he done and can look forward to the rest of the season, starting this weekend in Denmark.”