Not over, not over, not over yet….
The headline doesn’t refer to the 2007 classic* performed by Grace, but of course to the Elite League title race. One glance at it and it confirms that it’s getting awfully tight at the top.
We are now entering squeaky bum time. Of that there is no doubt. This is where coaches earn their money. This is where the big players must show up and the smaller players must become bigger players.
A handful of points separate the three teams vying for the top spot.
Cardiff 49 points from 32 games.
Belfast 46 points from 33 games.
Sheffield 44 from 31 games.
Cardiff are quite rightly red hot favorites to win the coveted title. They have led the league from mid-October and are cemented in the driving seat, for the second times in two years it’s their trophy to lose.
Cardiff GM Todd Kelman, hoping for more silverware come the end of the season.
The whole organisation in Cardiff will have learned from last year, from the cleaner to the Head Coach to the owners. From the players to the media guys to the hot dog seller. No one will want to go through that experience again. Take one game at a time, will surely be the adage in South Wales right now.
Nottingham, surely out of the title race, despite a recent impressive rally and historic continental cup success, are clinging on for dear life to the coat tails of the three clubs above them in the Elite League. But whilst in all seriousness they are probably out of the race for the Elite League they will surely influence where the Elite League Trophy ends up this season?
Of the 22 games left in the Panthers season, 45% (10) are against the top 3 teams in the league. Perhaps significantly in the silverware race, they play Cardiff four times, whilst they come up against Sheffield and Belfast three times.
Twice they will take on their bitter Yorkshire rivals at home, whilst they play in Belfast twice in a double header in March which is the beginning of a 5-game run away from the National Ice Centre. Can Nottingham win the Elite League, surely not, but can they influence where it goes? You can bet your last pound on that.
Belfast Giants, a fantastic organisation, are right in the mix and currently sit in second place. With Derrick Walser, not only do they have a capable guy at the helm, but probably the best D man in the league. They are consistently impressive, and are a fantastic unit away from Belfast. Walser can take his guys very close, their final two games of the season are in the Welsh capital, a mouth-watering prospect or potentially a huge anti-climax if Paul Thompson and his Sheffield charges have their way.
Derrick Walser, arguably the best defenceman in the Elite League, but can he steer the Belfast ship to the Elite League title?
Thompson finds himself the odd one out of the three coaches chasing for the League title. Firstly and significantly perhaps he is the only non-player coach chasing the title, and secondly of course he is the only one to have won it before as a player or a coach.
Knowing how to win a league title in any sport is a ‘leg up’ straight away.
Are third place Sheffield ready to pounce?
Thompson has been harder than ever on his team. Tyler Mosienko was allowed to leave Yorkshire without barely a whimper. Jesse Schultz was then released and not replaced as of yet, with the finger pointed at a lack of secondary scoring being the reason, despite the Canadian going at very nearly a point a game. Thompson was probably making a point to his team. Forget the fact the Schultz release was after losing to arch enemies Nottingham, the ex-Blaze Coach was making a statement.
By releasing Schultz, he was instantly putting more emphasis on his forwards, more responsibility and more accountability. It could very well turn out to be an absolute master stroke.
Should the Yorkshire club make it three league wins in three seasons, not many will point to the 30th December when Schultz was released and say, “that was a pivotal point in our season” however Thompson may well do?
As previously mentioned Paul Thompson has one thing over Andrew Lord (Cardiff) and Derrick Walser (Belfast) – he knows how the Elite League is won.
He knows what it takes. He knows what to do and when to do it. Not only does he know what to say, but he knows when and how to say it.
In his post-game interview after the epic overtime win in Coventry last Sunday, Thompson perhaps deliberately, left it until the end to say his most poignant words:
“We are coming, I like where we are right now, we are a team who are very experienced in being in the position we are, and we are getting better with it.
Words of warning maybe to anyone in listening in South Wales?
One thing is for sure, this League title is far from over.
Take it away Grace.
Author: Rob Plaister