The Monday After: Fine margins

The four coaches battling for the final two play-off places (PHOTOS: Scott Wiggins)

Fine margins

Who’d be a coach in the Elite League right now?  The league race continues to excite and twist as we go, but what about the coaches at the bottom end really feeling it right now?

In recent weeks, Ryan Finnerty, Zack Fitzgerald, Omar Pacha and Todd Dutiaume have all been through the wringer as their teams continue to please and frustrate at the same time.

There’s two spots left for the play-off party and only two of those coaches will be smiling after the regular season ends on 29th March.

The last couple of weeks have seen Dutiaume’s Fife pick up a four point weekend, Dundee take two points, Manchester get a couple of signifiant wins and Glasgow Clan end a six-game losing run to put them back in the top eight.

This week, they’ll turn to the next challenges ahead in a broken up schedule because of the Challenge Cup Final, but another weekend that looks like being one full of more twists and turns in this bonkers race.

For Pacha and Finnerty, not reaching the play-offs last year is driving them on as try to get over that line.  In the Dundee coach’s case, he’s trying to get there for the first time in three years.

Dutiaume’s Fife haven’t been in this position since their first season then you have a coaching rookie in Fitzgerald in his first campaign in charge of a Clan team that started so well, but have fallen alarmingly far down the table.

It can all be a pressurised environment, especially when you go over your own role in your team’s loss, how you can fix it, how to study the other team and find weaknesses to exploit.

Glasgow and Manchester picked up two points each over the weekend as they kept the play-off race incredibly tight (PHOTO: Mark Ferriss)

You’ve also got the fans running their mouths off on social media trying to tell you how to do your job, questioning your behaviour on the bench and finding anything and everything to moan about.

I can’t speak for what goes on in any coach’s head as we head into the final weeks, but it will take a toll as they try and have their lives away from their rinks too.

Whether they can relax and unwind at all in the days between games is unlikely as they carry the burden of expectation until the season ends or the objective is achieved.

Sleep will be lost, minds will drift, hours and hours of video will be watched as they try to find a key to relative success or something that can used to give them the upper hand.

Mental toughness is huge and might make or break their future careers either in this league or elsewhere.  And it’s all because a bounce might go against them or, heaven forbid, a decision goes against them.

These are the fine margins facing these four guys in the coming weeks and anyone who thinks they don’t care enough need to think again.  Coaches live and breathe it 24/7.  Anybody who reckons otherwise has no idea.

They may have been warriors on the ice and be able to influence games by suiting up in the past.  Now they can only watch from the bench helplessly, hoping their systems and instructions are being followed in the hope they get the points and give the fans something to smile about.

Ladies and gentlemen, let the final push for the play-offs commence properly.

Yours truly was a guest on Stephen Nolan’s Radio 5 show on Sunday night and let us speak about the role of fighting in the sport (PHOTO: Irish Times)

Radio Ga-Ga

As I write this, I’ve just finished a stint as a guest on Stephen Nolan’s Show on BBC Radio 5 Live discussing the role of enforcers and fighting in ice hockey.

To add context, Mr Nolan’s previous debates about ice hockey didn’t go down too well, so this time he allowed Dr Victoria Silverwood, former NHL enforcer Jim Thomson and myself to speak about the role and its relevance.

I still wonder if Mr Nolan questioned the relevance of fighting in the sport back in the days when he announced for Belfast Giants, but at least we all got to talk rather be talked over by the presenter.

For me, it’s a relevant role still, although it is dying out as the long term ramifications of constant hits to the head in a fighting situation are more widely known.

At least we got to convey that and I thank the producers of Radio 5 and Stephen Nolan for having us on the show to talk about it.

Janne Laakkonen scores the penalty shots winner to beat Nottingham Panthers on Sunday (PHOTO: Panthers Images)

Blaze are in the title race – official

Danny Stewart may remain coy on it, but I’m calling it right here, right now.  Coventry Blaze are in this title race.

They secured their play-off place at the weekend and while they remain in fifth place and eight points behind, their next three games – against Manchester, Dundee and Fife – could give them the edge in making it much more tighter at the top

I’m not saying they’re going to win it as I still think Cardiff will be the team to take the prize, but even a top three finish is not outwith the realms of possibility as we move into the final few games.

Their run of 26 points from 30 games is top of the table form and the four points they’ve lost have been the games they lost after regulation time.  Basically it’s 11 wins from 15 with four bonus points.

That’s an outstanding record in anyone’s book right now and with Nottingham and Belfast still dropping points in front of them, a top three is there for the taking at the very least.

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