Panthers not holding anything back for Steelers' cup clash
NOTTINGHAM Panthers will be 'in it to win it' when they face bitter rivals Sheffield Steelers tonight at the National Ice Centre (7.30pm).
Despite the Challenge Cup group game being rendered virtually 'meaningless' given that both sides have already qualified for the quarter-finals, over 6,000 supporters will flock to the game, with the away block virtually sold out.
And Panthers coach Corey Neilson and his players – fresh from an enforced international break – know how much these games against their bitter enemies mean to the fans.
"Every game means something to a hockey player," said Neilson, who also has an eye on the more important league game at Coventry on Sunday.
"Winning is why we play and no one on either side will go into the game thinking of anything else.
"There is always an edge to the games with Sheffield and I don't see this as any different given the circumstances."
There are doubts over goalie Craig Kowalski, who has struggled with "a niggle" when the players returned to training this week, while David Clarke is set to give his troublesome knee more time to recover.
Czech defenceman Martin Tuma is expected to see some action against the Steelers.
Neilson added: "We don't normally train on a Monday but the NIC were good enough to give us some ice time.
"The guys have been blowing the cobwebs out and we'll be ready.
"We certainly won't be holding anything back for Coventry.
"That's going to be another very tough game for us.
"I know they don't have the depth they once did but I like all their imports.
"They are fit and play hard and we are under no illusions what to expect."
Despite his disappointment at missing out on Great Britain's successful trip to Japan for the Olympics pre-qualifier because of injury, Neilson was full of praise for the achievements of Tony Hand's squad.
Four Panthers players did make the trek to the Far East and Neilson said: "I'm really thrilled for them all.
"GB has a talented team and although it was a big result beating Japan on their own ice after all that travel, I didn't expect anything less of them.
"It will do their confidence the world of good ahead of the next stage."
After news of the national team's success in Japan came through, Panthers general manager Gary Moran set about changing their league date with Coventry on Saturday, February 9.
Some of the Panthers players will be away with the Brits in Latvia for the final qualification tournament for the 2014 Winter Olympics at the same time.
Moran said: "Despite everyone's best efforts it has proven impossible to find a suitable new date for our game on February 9.
"So the existing stand-alone Challenge Cup game on Wednesday December 5 with Coventry will now be a league and cup double up fixture.
"The box office are looking after refunds for season ticket holders who had purchased seats for the cup fixture.
"I am told the refund will come directly to them; we ask only for a week or so's patience.
"I would like to particularly thank Paul Thompson (Coventry coach) for his efforts to try to accommodate a new fixture date.
"But everything either left us playing each other three times in a row in a month where we already meet twice home and twice away; or the new date gave one or both clubs four games in five nights; or the new date clashed with an existing fixture for one or both clubs."