Coventry Blaze Head Coach Chuck Weber has urged his team to ’embrace that underdog mentality’ when they face Cardiff Devils in the Elite League play-off semi-final on Saturday.
The defending champions are two games away from becoming only the third team in EIHL history to successfully defend the trophy.
Blaze take on Devils in the first semi-final on Saturday, before Nottingham Panthers meet Fife Flyers as the season reaches its climax at the National Ice Centre.
Devils have had the upper hand against Blaze this term, but beat the Welshmen 2-1 in the last match to be played at the Big Blue Tent on 27th February.
Weber said: “We match up well with them and we know each other inside out. Lordy (Devils’ Player/Coach Andrew Lord) will have his side prepared for us just as much as we will be ready for them.
“It will come down to who executes, who is most disciplined and who outworks their opponent.
“I am a big fan of the best of five or best of seven, it is what I grew up with. Here it’s a shorter format which brings a different type of excitement.
“I compare it to a 100 metre sprint, where a best of seven is like running a mile.
“In my one and a half years in this league I have been lucky to do this twice. It is a fantastic and enjoyable experience and I know we are looking forward to it.
“It is the old coach’s mantra in that we need to take it one shift at a time. But we know we can play with them.
“Cardiff are so talented – they have two of the three nominees for Player of the Year, their goalie (Ben Bowns) has been nominated for Goaltender of the Year, (Andrew) Hotham is up for Defenseman of the Year and Andrew Lord is in the running for Coach of the Year.
While Weber is wary of the threat posed by the Devils – with the Welsh team big favourites with Ladbrokes – he believes the semi-final could boil down to a battle between the two netminders.
Brian Stewart has also been nominated for the top goalie award and Weber is confident the Canadian will rise to the occasion.
“We are a team that has always relied on Stewie, that is part of our make-up,” Weber added.
“Ben Bowns has come on leaps and bounds from last year and is a very important player for them. Of all the British players in the league he might have been the best one this year.
“But Stewie loves these moments – he was huge for us last year and he will be again.
“Both of them might not have the final say, but they will have a lot to say.”
With Devils finishing well ahead of Blaze in the regular season standings Weber acknowledges the size of the task his team faces on Saturday, but he believes they can get the job done.
“A lot of people think we don’t have a chance,” Weber said. “I don’t know how we cannot be the underdogs – they are the number two seed and they were battling for the league title all year.
“They’ve had a fantastic season, even though in two of the regular-season hardware they fell a little short.
“We will need to play the right way and capitalise on our opportunities.”
(Image permission: Adrian Rapps)