FOR a second season running Derek Campbell is happy to play his part in upsetting Sheffield Steelers’ play-off hopes.
The 32-year-old Canadian forward proved to be the match-winner on a memorable night in Sheffield last season, scoring a hat-trick as Hull Stingrays won 5-2 to cause a massive upset and knock the Steelers out 7-4 on aggregate at the quarter-final stage.
After a somewhat disruptive season which has seen Campbell on the roster of three teams at various times, he finds himself finishing the campaign back with Coventry Blaze, with who he won an Elite League championship back in 2010.
The following year he won another top-flight regular season title, this time with the Steelers under the guidance of player-coach Ben Simon.
But Campbell had no qualms about upsetting his former club at the first stage of the post-season 12 months ago and will happily do so again this weekend when the Blaze take on the Steelers over two legs in an eagerly-anticipated quarter-final match-up, starting with tonight’s encounter at Coventry’s SkyDome Arena (7pm).
Campbell acknowledges that the Steelers go into the tie as favourites. There may have only been the one place separating the two teams in the final Elite League overall standings, but the Steelers were, in reality, way ahead of Coventry, finishing 19 points clear of their West Midlands rivals.
The eight-game series between the two sides in the Erhardt Conference proved more enjoyable for the Steelers too, with Ryan Finnerty’s team winning six of those encounters, as well as both Challenge Cup group games.
But if Hull’s run to the final four weekend proved anything last season, it is that anything is possible in the post-season, with many people tipping the Coventry-Steelers clash to be the one where there will most likely be an upset out of all four ties – something Campbell agrees with.
“I honestly don’t think us beating the Steelers would be that much of an upset,” insisted Campbell. “They only finished the regular season one place above us.
“If you look at the two teams on paper I think we are fairly close in terms of quality, they probably have a bit more depth.
“But they have got a good team, with a number of guys that can hurt you with their scoring - they blew us out the last time they played us at our place.”
Campbell believes there is no such thing as home advantage in the two-legged format and sees this weekend’s encounter as one six-period battle.
“As a group of players we are feeling confident going into these play-offs,” he added. “We’ve had a very good week in practice and we’ve got a gameplan which we’re looking to execute - as I’m sure Sheffield will have. So it’s all going to be about which team executes their gameplan the best.
“What you effectively have this weekend is a six-period game over two nights. Home advantage means nothing in this format to be honest, there is so much pressure on both sides to perform in front of their own fans.
“Ideally you need to do some real damage in the first leg if you can, to take a decent lead into the second game.”
While Campbell acknowledges the greater expectation this weekend probably lies on the Steelers’ shoulders, he points out that a team as successful as Coventry have been in the Elite League era also has plenty to prove.
“If there is any pressure on the Steelers it’s probably something that they put there themselves,” said Campbell. “There is an expectancy from the fans there for the club to win trophies because it’s such a big organisation.
“But the fans in Coventry also expect success, this club has won a lot over the years and there are still a lot of expectation around the place.”
With Coventry coach Paul Thompson ending 18 years at the helm once Blaze’s season is complete, Campbell said he would love nothing more than to send his boss off to pastures new - at Swedish second division outfit Troja-Ljungby - with some fresh silverware.
Thompson has guided the club to 15 major trophies at all levels of the British game, with Blaze clinching four Elite League titles, including a grand slam in a memorable 2004-05 campaign.
But, although three more league titles have followed that treble for the Blaze, the play-off title has remained elusive, something Campbell is keen to put right.
“Thommo is a guy who deserves all the credit going in British ice hockey,” said Campbell. “He’s worked extremely hard with younger players over the years and brought them through, as well as being the GB national coach for such a long time – not to mention everything he has achieved here at Coventry.
“He’s extremely well-respected by everybody around him, and rightly so. We would love nothing more than to give him a good send-off with a trophy.
“He won’t let this next couple of weeks be anything about him, though, which is typical. He just wants to win, full stop - regardless of the situation.
“As a player, to have somebody like that there to motivate you, is just ideal.”