WHEN Braehead Clan powered into the Elite League play-off semi-finals on the back of a 9-1 hammering of defending champions Nottingham Panthers, nobody would have been more pleased for the Scottish club’s coach Ryan Finnerty than Gerad Adams.
But that is as far as the generosity goes on the part of the Sheffield Steelers head coach – for one day at least – as Adams finds himself going head-to-head with Finnerty at the National Ice Centre tomorrow.
At stake is a place in Sunday’s play-off final against either league champions Belfast Giants or surprise package Fife Flyers, who are on the ice earlier in the day in the first semi-final.
Adams and Finnerty – himself a former Steelers’ coach and player – became good friends after the latter returned for a second spell in the British top flight with Cardiff Devils in the middle of the 2009-10 season.
The following year, Finnerty was made captain by Devils’ coach Adams, the duo only being denied the club’s first regular season league championship by virtue of the Steelers having won more games in regulation.
Within a couple of weeks of their disappointment, however, Finnerty found himself thrust into a coaching role back at his beloved Steelers in the wake of Ben Simon’s decision to return to North America.
Adams was happy for Finnerty to take up the position in South Yorkshire having seen enough during their 18 months together in South Wales to suggest his captain had the right coaching credentials.
In the end, it turned out to be a barren two years for the Steelers under Finnerty, with successive first round play-off exits contributing to owner Tony Smith’s decision not to persevere with his coach for a third term.
But Finnerty clearly learned a lot during some difficult times at Sheffield and has overseen a successful season for the Clan, culminating in their first ‘final four’ appearance this weekend.
“He’s a good mate of mine and I’m really happy that his season has been successful up there,” said Adams, who himself is hoping to secure a more permanent deal at the Motorpoint Arena after his short but successful spell in charge.
“He is the major reason why they are there in Nottingham and people should acknowledge that.
“Sheffield is a big job and you need a lot of experience for it and he didn’t have that experience. But he has taken what might be perceived as a negative with what happened to him in Sheffield and really turned it into something positive at Braehead. I really do think he’s one of the better coaches in the league now.
“He’s got the whole team playing the way he wants them to and they are very, very well coached.”
Finnerty was at Sheffield on Tuesday night to check out his team’s semi-final opponents as the Steelers completed a convincing two-legged 9-3 victory over Coventry Blaze with a 6-1 win.
Adams was himself at the NIC a few days earlier to witness Braehead beat hosts Nottingham 4-0, before heading home to Glasgow for the second leg where they completed the demolition job on Corey Neilson’s side 48 hours later with a 5-1 triumph. The scale of the victory over last season’s treble winners surprised many people, including Adams.
“I think it surprised everybody - he (Finnerty) probably even surprised himself,” smiled Adams. “I watched the game in Nottingham and they played good. They were very defensive the way they played and did well, but we’ve got a gameplan heading into this weekend. He knows me well, but I know him better than he thinks heading into it.
“The one thing me and him share in common is that we hate losing and we’ll do whatever it takes to win games.
“I’m really happy for him to make it this far, but that’s good enough,” added Adams with a wry smile. “I would think this is as far as he gets – but I would think he’s saying the exact opposite in the interviews he’s doing up there ahead of the game.”
The teams have met four times this season, with neither side being able to win at home. There will have been understandable joy for Finnerty winning twice on his return to Sheffield, although he insists it is not a major factor heading into the weekend showdown between the two clubs in Nottingham. “It doen’s matter that it’s against Sheffield for me personally, it adds interest to it for other people though and I understand that,” said Finnerty.
“I’ve said all year that I have confidence in this team and I have again this weekend.
“I got a good look on Tuesday as to what Sheffield are about and we believe we’ve got the systems in place and we’re confident going in.
“Both teams compete hard and it will be a battle but, in games like this, you also need to have a bit of luck, get your big players to turn up and hope that your goalie is your best player.
“We’ve had a pretty upbeat week of practice and, understandably, we’re excited about the game.
“There hasn’t been much between us all season, both when we’ve met and in the standings so I think that will be reflected in the game again on Saturday.”