Neilson looking only at the next Panthers victory
MATHEMATICALLY, Nottingham Panthers can win the title this weekend.
Realistically, it may well have to wait another week – or even longer – before England's oldest senior team celebrates a first league title since the original side won in 1956.
In those days, professional ice hockey was floundering with only five teams operating at the top level before the league – and Panthers – folded in 1960.
Now, despite its many detractors, the game is as healthy as it has been in recent years, especially since the ten-team Elite League went to two conferences for this season.
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Panthers coach Corey Neilson must be aware of the history surrounding the club's attempts to add a league title to their many other trophies, but he's not letting on.
As ever, the big Canadian remains focused on one thing . . . winning the next game.
The fact that next game is another massive sell-out at the National Ice Centre tomorrow (7pm) against bitter rivals Sheffield Steelers will not be allowed to distract him or his players from the job in hand.
Quite simply, if table-topping Panthers win that clash and Sunday's game in Hull and second-placed Belfast lose both theirs – in Braehead and Edinburgh – the title will be theirs.
But, ever the realist, Neilson doesn't deal in 'ifs' or 'buts' – just getting the job done.
As usual, Sheffield have been pumping up the rivalry with one of their former players saying the current team "should be ashamed of themselves" seeing Panthers at the top of the table.
In one last bid to stay in the title mix, Steelers apparently even tried to off-load one of their best players, Simon Ferguson, and swap him for Braehead's Jordan Krestanovich, a more natural goalscorer
But that move was promptly dismissed by the Scottish club.
Neilson – who doesn't get involved with any media shenanigans – said: "We will just play the same way that has taken us to where we are.
"That's all we are focusing on, not the stuff that's being said elsewhere.
"We will do our thing and however they want to play, we will be trying to dictate how the game goes.
"We are looking no further than that. After Sheffield, we will look at Hull and then Belfast next week and then Cardiff.
"Whatever happens elsewhere is out of our hands.
"Winning is all that counts and everything will look after itself."
Panthers have been at the top of the table since the middle of December, losing only three times since then – to Belfast (5-4) and Sheffield twice (9-4 and 5-2) – in 27 games.
Since that last defeat to Steelers at the beginning of February, they have embarked on a nine-game winning run including the two-legged Challenge Cup semi-final against Belfast.
They go into a possible memorable weekend on the back of an unbelievable six wins – five of them on the road – in a gruelling ten days.
Neilson, though clearly proud of his team and their achievements, merely said: "Yes, we played some good hockey, did some great things and deserved what we got.
"We tried some different things too, but the players were really committed, detail orientated even.
"The fact is, they executed the game plan very well and that's all I can ask."
After enjoying some success with the all-Brit forward line after they'd been teamed together for GB in Latvia last month, Neilson has more recently reverted to the former lines.
Nottingham-born Rob Lachowicz is now back with Matt Franics and Pat Galivan, with bruiser Kelsey Wilson back alongside Matthew Meyers and David Clarke.
And Wilson, who adds toughness to Panthers renowned finess, has notched nine points including five goals in the last seven games.
"Kelsey's coming into his own now," said Neilson.
"We want him to play on the edge and that's what he is good at, because teams are always wary when he's around.
"But as well as his toughness he is finding some speed and having some good success in front of goal too.
"That line is very solid.
"On top of that, the three midgets (Lachowicz, Francis and Galivan) look better together.
"They are fast and move their feet so well.
"Each line has something different to offer but they are all capable of scoring and that is what I have tried to achieve these past few years.
"On top of three balanced lines, we have three pretty active defencemen all capable of jumping into the play, which makes it difficult for the opposition to plan against."
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