Call To Arms: Why Tonight Is The Most Important Game Of Four Teams’ EIHL Season

“This is a call to arms
Gather soldiers
Time to go to war

This is a battle song
Brothers and sisters
Time to go to war”

30 Seconds To Mars: “Vox Populi”

Tonight is a big night in Coventry. And Cardiff, too.

In Coventry, two teams at completely opposite ends of the table meet in a Challenge Cup quarter final that could, potentially, have big ramifications for the rest of their seasons.

Meanwhile, in Cardiff two title challengers clash, one on the rise, one on the fall-in a game that will either give one team a HUGE “we can do this” confidence boost or allow another to potentially stop a slump that could derail their title challenge.

Let’s look in Coventry first.

The Coventry Blaze, still looking for that jumpstart for their season under new coach Chuck Weber, face the top-of-the-table Braehead Clan at the Skydome in their Challenge Cup quarter final first leg, in a game that could be crucial for the rest of the Blaze’s season.

After barely scraping into the quarters thanks to the benevolence of the Cardiff Devils in beating Hull, Chuck Weber’s men find themselves still with a chance at two pieces of silverware.

They also find themselves still outside a playoff spot, only four points off the bottom of the table (where Dundee are slowly showing signs of improvement which could allow them to pick up points in the second half of the season) and with a record of 4-13 under Weber.

Not where they want to be, in other words.

With the team now slowly returning to full fitness (although star centre Ryan O’Marra is a game-time decision) and a loss to Sheffield on Sunday that sapped any momentum gained from a hard-fought and duck-breaking win in Cardiff on Saturday night, this Blaze team now have to start proving their mettle under their new coach. A win against Braehead would be another big sign that slowly but surely Chuck Weber is turning things around for the better at the Skydome, not so much for the fanbase as for a dis-spirited team themselves. A loss puts them in an incredibly tough position for the long trip back up to Glasgow, and could choke off another chance of silverware unhappily early.

A lot will depend on whether O’Marra is fit. The big Canadian centre has had his critics among the Blaze fanbase this year but his absence through injury on Sunday removed one of the few driving forces offensively on the Blaze squad…at times O’Marra has looked to be carrying the team on his broad shoulders and along with Brian Stewart the weight has visibly worn him down in some games. He’s Coventry’s top scorer, their offensive leader and, essentially, everything good the Blaze have done for most of the season has gone through him and Steve Goertzen. His importance can’t be overstated.

Particularly against Braehead. In Scott Pitt the Clan have the leading goalscorer in the EIHL, while in Neil Trimm they have the top points scorer. They have offence to burn (3 20-goal scorers already) and calm composed defence. But, this is where the business end of the season starts. Lose to Coventry in the CC quarters and there could just be a few collywobbles start to creep in again-the weakness that assailed the Clan at times last season. Sitting with a six-point lead at the top of the table is all very well, and well-earned by the team…but any loss will ratchet up the pressure just a little…pressure the Clan don’t need right now with the four teams below them chasing hard.

Ryan Finnerty is not a man to do things in moderation-he’ll demand that his Clan players treat every game from now on like a war. For them, a win tonight will be very useful in potentially starting momentum that could see them roll to the title. A loss…well, a loss to a team they’re probably expected to beat just hints to other clubs that they might be starting to feel a little pressure as the games start to get more important. It puts a little blood in the water…and there are at least four sharks circling below Braehead waiting to seize on any weakness.

Two of those sharks clash tonight, all teeth and fury, in Cardiff. But both have slightly different agendas. The Devils have seen their winning run of nine in a row stop last weekend with losses to Coventry and an OT loss in Nottingham. While there is definitely no need to panic in any way, those losses may have brought up the criticisms thrown at the Devils earlier in the season-that they wouldn’t be able to beat their title rivals often enough to ensure finishing above them.

Tonight, though, the Red Army can get straight back on the horse and tear a vital chunk out of one of their closest challengers…the Devils face Belfast having taken a fine one-goal lead away from the Odyssey in the first leg. Now they have the chance to slay the wounded Giants and in the process go a little further to proving they are sustained and serious title challengers. Of course, the morale boost of getting to the Challenge Cup semis the hard way and facing either Braehead or Coventry (both rivals in different ways) might also have a boost on their league campaign, as well as stop a slide before it starts.

Speaking of stopping slides, the Belfast Giants desperately need to stop one of their own. The Giants are on a three game losing streak, throwing away vital points to Hull and Dundee (both teams they were expected to beat fairly comfortably) last weekend, as well as the aforementioned home loss to Cardiff. They’re a team that under Steve Thornton simply don’t look the same polished outfit they were under Paul Adey despite having many of the same players. This quarter-final and winning a very tough away game in Cardiff is their chance to emphatically stop the slide before it gets any worse and get back into the title race, as well as potentially regain the psychological advantage against a Devils squad they’re locked in a tight league battle with (the two are currently level on points)

With all the above going on and Sheffield taking on Dundee, too, it’s a MASSIVE EIHL night tonight, with stories everywhere to follow.

Time to go to war.

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