POFW 19: View from the Benches

(PHOTOS: Scott Wiggins/Panthers Images)

As the Elite League play-off finals weekend gets closer and closer, the excitement and anticipation levels are rising as the four teams and 11 sets of fans get ready to spend the next couple of days at the Motorpoint Arena.

But what are the thoughts of the four men who will play a big part of the occasion as their respective semi-finals get ever closer?

We at British Ice Hockey decided to ask the questions of the four coaches and get a feel of how they’re getting on before the action starts on Saturday:

Adam Keefe (Belfast Giants):

“I’m really just looking forward to being back in the final four.  Missing out last year was not fun for anybody involved so we’re pleased to be back and glad for this group to be able to experience it as well.

“We had a great practice in the week leading up to the tie with Coventry after winning the title celebrations, which was always good to see and it kind of re-energised the group.

“Sometimes you worry your guys starting to look forward to the summer and what they’re going to do with themselves, but I think winning the title has given us a new focus and we saw that in the two games with Blaze.

“I’ve been impressed at the attitude we’ve shown, but certainly not surprised and we have a lot of leadership and experience in this group.  They’ve had a taste of winning now and they want more.

“Everything’s all happened so fast, we haven’t had the chance to think too much about the Grand Slam to be honest.  We set out to try and win everything every year and it won’t change next year.

“To be in the situation we’re in is great and makes all the ups and downs you go through worth it in the end.”

Andrew Lord (Cardiff Devils):

“It’s an amazing event and it’s always sold out.  The crowd support from each fan base makes it a different atmosphere in the arena.

“We want to win every trophy we’re involved with and obviously, it was heartbreaking how the league title finished for us, finishing level on points but missing out on the tie-breaking criteria.

“We done a good job moving forward and played some good hockey against a tough opponent in Sheffield Steelers last week, but we’re in good shape.

“Saturday will be a tough game for us against Nottingham.  Having their home crowd is definitely helpful for them certainly and every game against them has seen some up-tempo hockey and I expect nothing different.

“We’ll have to come out of the blocks early and firing on all cylinders, but whether we won the league or not, it would be incredible to win the play-offs again.

“It’s a tough one to win and you have to play four incredible hockey games as everyone’s level goes up so it would be very special to end the season on a high.”

Paul Dixon (Guildford Flames):

“We’ve got a Belfast team with three trophies under their belt and they’re a great team.  We know we’ll be up against it, but all we can do is worry about ourselves and what we can do.

“If we have a little bit of luck on the day, you just never know in these one-off games.  We know how hard the task at hand is.

“We’ve enjoyed some good games with Belfast and we’ve generally been on the wrong end of one-goal games so we hope we can turn it around here.

“You’ve got to have some luck on the night and we certainly feel we didn’t have it in the Challenge Cup Final after playing exceptionally well.

“We have been close with them in 90% in games, but you just need to look at the players they have and how well they’ve done to see what a great job Adam has done.

“We’re going in on Saturday to try and win a hockey game and we’re an entertaining team that plays high pressure.  The fans are up for it and they’ve really been behind us this year, which is nice to see.

Rick Strachan (Nottingham Panthers):

“It’s a great event to be part of and myself and the whole organisation like to be there.  It’s the pinnacle of the season for all the teams.

“There are four good teams involved this year and I can’t wait to get started on Saturday against Cardiff Devils.

“Being the head coach this time compared to previous years doesn’t make the build-up to it any different.  We still have to practice and prepare like we would in the past when I worked with Corey where it was all ‘preparation, preparation, preparation’.

“There is some added pressure being the head coach I suppose, but every one will have that going in as they want to win the two hockey games and come out as the champion.

“It’s a great team we come up against on Saturday and Cardiff are a team that are well organised, well coached and will be a great challenge.

“They’re the holders, but that has no bearing on this one.  It’s one game, winner takes all and that’s our only focus on Saturday.  We’re playing the Cardiff Devils of 2019 and that’s all we’re concerned about.

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