Tonight, the Blaze play Braehead in a Challenge Cup quarterfinal second leg up in Scotland, after the first leg saw them draw two-all at the Skydome last week.
This game might only be a quarter-final, but it might as well be the playoff final due to the amount riding on it.
If Blaze don’t put in a performance tonight, their season could well be over, two months before it actually is.
Stuart Coles at Sky Blue Hockey makes an eloquent argument as to why a win is crucial for momentum, and discusses the impact a loss could have on the mental mindset of the players, which you can read here.
My argument is similar, but I’m choosing to find something optimistic ahead of the trip up in a place many may not have looked. And also discuss why I, too, think this game is beyond massive for the Blaze.
On Saturday night in Nottingham we saw evidence of the pop and fizz begin to come back. Sure, the team lost heavily (conceding eight goals to Nottingham for the second time this season) but at least we saw open, incontrovertible evidence that they cared, in Peter Hirsch’s rage and Dustin Cameron’s fury.
We saw a team that showed publicly in an unmistakable fashion that they felt as wound up and sheer pissed-off with the struggles of the past few weeks as the fans were. And that meant a lot.
Tonight, we see the Blaze travel up to a rink in which they’ve hardly ever won, against a buoyant team who are building under a new coach and becoming more confident again by the day, with a new signing making his debut in Matt Schepke and a crowd who think they can definitely turn a tricky tie into a win.
The Blaze, meanwhile, welcome Adam Henrich to the lineup. Henrich is a player who’s been presented already as a player who’ll help turn the season back around again, enabling the weary to rest their accumulated injuries, take the pressure off and most importantly make it a lot easier for his teammates to put the puck in the net with the regularity we know they can.
Given the expectations Blaze fans are already placing on him, it’s a good job he has broad shoulders.
Henrich looks quality…prolific in Italy’s Serie A, a solid scorer in the AHL and built like a brick outhouse, too. But his Blaze debut comes in a game that is the biggest of the season by a long, long way.
Win it, and maybe the momentum will begin to build towards a playoff run. Braehead is a tricky place to play at the best of times, and if this team can go there and get a result then the fans will begin to get back behind them, the belief will build and there is the chance of some momentum building before another confrontation with the hated enemy from Nottingham on Sunday at the Skydome.
Lose it, and it’s another blow to morale, another winnable trophy chance gone. Glasgow on a bus trip is a hell of a long way to travel when you only have your own thoughts and the shared pain of defeat for company-especially with the fans beginning to wonder if the team will slip as far as seventh. It’s potentially the kind of straw that can break a season’s back.
Braehead are a good team, but this Blaze team are better, especially with the addition of Henrich.
Come on, boys. Bleed blue. And keep the cup run going.