As Edinburgh Capitals prepare for the first leg of their Challenge Cup quarter-final with Sheffield Steelers at Murrayfield tonight (face-off 7.00pm), club co-owner Scott Neil believes that, while his players have a point to prove, they are under no pressure against the big-budget Yorkshire outfit.
It’s the first time Caps have qualified for the knock-out stages of the competition and they go into the tie as huge underdogs against last season’s Elite League champions.
Neil, who in his playing days starred for both clubs, said: “We’ve got the first leg at home tonight and, first and foremost, we need to keep ourselves in the tie.
“If we can take a lead down to Sheffield then so much the better. The game is played over 120 minutes. We need to be consistent and battle with one of the top teams in the league over the two games.
“Absolutely all the pressure is on Sheffield. They’re the big-money team with the big squad and everybody expects them to go through. We’ve got a team of guys here that are hungry and want to prove a point and there’s no better opportunity than this one to go out there and do the business.”
With the second leg due to take place in Sheffield on Saturday, the first semi-finalist – who will go on to play either Nottingham Panthers or Braehead Clan – will be known ahead of schedule, with the other quarter-final ties not being played until next month.
Currently with no injury worries, and coming off the back of a fine 8-2 win over Coventry Blaze last Sunday, Neil believes the fixture is perfectly timed to give his club the best chance of success. Sheffield will most likely be without Swedish forward Yared Hagos, who suffered suspected concussion following a check-to-the-head from Belfast’s former Edinburgh forward David Rutherford at the weekend.
Neil continued: “At the last Elite League meeting, they moved the quarter-final completion date back because of fixture congestion. It was supposed to have been played before December 14 but, the way the groups fell, before our last game against Belfast we knew the only teams we could be playing were either Sheffield or Nottingham and we had agreed quarter-final dates with both clubs before that decision had been made.
“If we played them in December, we would have ran into fixture congestion ourselves and Sheffield were keen to turn what was due to be a league game against them on Saturday into a Challenge Cup game.”
Edinburgh and Sheffield have locked horns once already this season on league business at Murrayfield, the game ending in a thrilling 5-5 tie before Steelers grabbed the extra point after penalty shots.
Despite a great third-period comeback, which saw Edinburgh’s former NHL forward Pavel Vorobyev grab a hat-trick, Capitals player coach Michal Dobron was not happy with his side’s performance that night and expects a different type of game this evening.
Dobron said: “Last time against Sheffield we didn’t play well at all and made some bad mistakes early on before playing great in the third period.
“It’s a process for us and it’s something we’ll learn as the season progresses and I’m expecting a different type of match tonight. If we play our game for 60 minutes like we did against Coventry, we can beat any team in the league.”
Sunday’s win saw Edinburgh break a five-game losing streak, Dobron juggling his line-up, pairing himself with Mike D’Orazio at the back and altering the forward lines, moving Vorobyev alongside Taylor MacDougall and Mason Wilsgosh, with Yevgeni Fvodorov centring Jared Staal and Karel Hromas.
“Sometimes in hockey you need to freshen things up a little bit,” added Dobron. “The changes worked well and I was pleased with how the guys responded. We went into that game with a plan which we stuck to for sixty minutes and we’ll approach tonight’s game the same way.”