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Play-off Fever Hits Nottingham

5 April 05 words: Martin Geeson
You just never know what to expect from Paul Adey's side. They can be brilliant and they can be awful
Nottingham Panthers LogoSo the regular season is over, and what a mixed bag it has been for the Nottingham Panthers. Paul Adeys’ black and gold army were in sensational form before Christmas but a run of poor results, the departure of a top player, a never-ending injury list, and a Cup semi-final defeat have all cost the Panthers dear.

For the Playoff qualifiers, the Panthers managed to scrape together a little form to qualify for the Finals weekend held at our very own National Ice Centre alongside Paul Thompsons’ double winning Coventry Blaze, Elite League runners up Cardiff Devils and our old rivals the Sheffield Steelers.

Much of the Panthers playoff qualification success can be attributed to Czech netminder Ladislav Kudrna, who has been in sensational form since he joined the club following an injury to first choice netminder Curtis Cruickshank. It is also worth mentioning the stars of tomorrow like Lewis and Jason Buckman, James Neil, Daniel Scott, Rhys McWilliams and James Cooke who have all deputised superbly in the absence of experienced first team stars like Kim Ahlroos, Mikhail Nemirovsky, Richard Wojciak and Ian Moran.

As far as this season goes, you just never know what to expect from Paul Adeys’ side. One night they can be brilliant and the next they can be awful.

Without a doubt the Panthers have the best roster in the Elite League boasting three NHL stars in Steve McKenna (Pittsburgh Penguins), Ian Moran (Boston Bruins) and 2004 All Star Pick Nick Boynton (Boston Bruins). In addition to that they have the creative Ukrainian Konstantin Kalmikov, Reliable Captain Calle Carlsson, five top quality British stars including David Clarke and Matt Myers and Paul Moran. Yet sometimes the wheels just fall off when players are either plagued with injury (like Kim Ahlroos) or they just simply turn up one night and not the next (like Mark Cadotte and Marek Ivan).

In the playoff semi finals, The Panthers will meet Cardiff Devils and it promises to be classic encounter with the return of fan favourite John Craighead to the NIC as well as NHL star Rob Davison and the talismanic Vezio Sacratini. The Devils roster looks strong at first glance and it is well organised by Coach Dave Whistle. However their stumbling block this season has been an inability to win back to back games against opposition they should comprehensively beat. In a one off game it’s possible that the Devils could overcome the Panthers but their true motivation will be gaining revenge for the drubbing Coventry Blaze gave them over the two-legged Challenge Cup final.

The Blaze look the strongest of the four semi-finalists having already claimed the Elite league title and the Challenge Cup, as well as easily finishing top of their qualification group. The club has earned itself a reputation as one of the toughest in the league, perhaps second only to Dennis Maxwells’ brutal London Racers, with players like Andre Payette, Wade Belak and Adam Calder more than willing trade a few blows.

Nottingham Panthers - Photography by Dave PageDespite the physicality of the Coventry side, perhaps their best asset is netminder Jody Lehman. Coventry have no problems scoring goals and with Lehman between the pipes they have no problems with shutouts either. It’s going to be a monumental task for the Sheffield Steelers who meet them in the semis to sneak a win, but you never know, a season is never complete without a trophy heading up the M1.

Sheffield Steelers have had what most would call a disappointing season and will be looking to gain some credibility in the end of season showcase. For the past decade, Sheffield has been the dominant side in British ice hockey and it seems odd that 2005 could end with an empty trophy cabinet.

At the end of last season they lost coach Mike Blaisdell who went back to his native Canada for personal reasons, and his replacement Rob Stewart was fired mid season after a string of poor results. Despite new coach Paul Heaveys’ efforts, the Steelers could only finish fourth, behind Nottingham Panthers, which will be seen by their fans as a massive failure.

All of this aside though it is impossible to rule out Sheffield picking up a trophy this season. Looking at the final four once more, My head says the winner of the Coventry Blaze, Sheffield Steelers match will go on to be the eventual winners, however my heart has already crowned Nottingham Panthers as the 2005 Elite League Playoff Champions.

www.panthers.co.uk






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