Pressure, what pressure? Says Panthers coach Corey Neilson
PRESSURE is not a problem Corey Neilson has to worry about as he prepares his players for the biggest two nights for 33 years in Nottingham Panthers' history.
And as the team stands on the verge of a first league title since reforming in 1980, the giant Canadian says self-belief and focus is what sees them sit proudly at the top of the Elite League, just two points away from a memorable triumph.
Their double-header in Belfast tomorrow and Saturday sees Panthers needing to glean two points from their two games – a win or even two overtime defeats will suffice – over the second-placed Giants, who trail them by six points with four games remaining.
"Pressure on? No, I don't think so," said Neilson. "Being top is a nice place to be.
"Having said that, I felt the room was perhaps a little stiff when we went out there for that game against Sheffield last weekend.
"But the guys have a pretty good self-belief and I have belief in them to get the job done.
"When it comes to the end of the day, they will be there and give a good account of themselves.
"It's up to Rick (Strachan, assistant coach) and me to sense what's going on and how they're behaving.
"You never know whether you have to gee the players up or calm them down until you go into the room before a game.
"But honestly, they are a pretty light group of guys. Not much really bothers them; they have fun and work hard and I don't think they really feel any pressure.
"The enjoy coming to work every day, which is part of why we're successful.
"They want to have fun while they work but it's their job; they want to win, they want to prove themselves.
"They each have their own personal level of excellence that they want to achieve in the team framework."
Neilson admits that, despite them being beaten just once in the last 18 games, they've not been at their best at times.
But he says the fact they continue winning is testimony to the attitude of his players, both as a group as well as individually.
"We just keep plugging along," he said. "We've been doing a pretty good job of grinding out results and finding our way through, despite us sometimes not playing 'super', but doing enough.
"It's tough to get them all playing exceptional on one night, but what I like about this group is there is always someone coming up with something which is needed.
"It might be a key save, a goal at the right time, a good block or a key fight to change momentum. That's what so good.
"Their focus and mindset is real good right now, not just for each game but for each practice, each video session, each work-out, every time we meet day to day.
"And it is still getting better all the time.
"It is all about them trying to find that next level and I'm pretty happy with that.
"They're not just a nice group, but really are great professionals; they're winners and want to compete at a high level all the time which I love.
"They have a huge amount of pride in what they do and actually care about how they go about doing things.
"It's not just about goals and assists with them but the end result."
Neilson obviously won't let on his game-plan against Belfast, content as ever to let Giants worry about his free-scoring side, who won their last game at the Odyssey, 4-3 in the Challenge Cup semi-final.
"Time will tell how we play against them," he laughed. "But we don't want to get into a situation where we are chasing the game.
"People have been trying to find new ways of beating us but I think we've handled that pretty well.
"We could hold guys back just to see what they're doing and be a little more wary.
"But we will just take it as it comes as we always do."
And as Panthers close in on that first league title, Neilson – still registered as a player – says he is happy to be on the sidelines, watching as his team takes all the plaudits
"I'm not really missing playing," he said. "I really enjoy my new role.
"This has been a new challenge for me, something different.
"My life's changed a lot but I still feel like I am having a positive impact on games.
"Yes, it's been good."