BELFAST GIANTS player-coach Derrick Walser may have huge “respect” for Sheffield Steelers – but he wants to cause them nothing but play-off heartache in Nottingham on Saturday.
Walser’s talented team – regular season runners-up – stand between the Steelers and a seventh appearance in the Elite League play-off final on Sunday as the two go head-to-head in the second semi-final at Nottingham’s National Ice Centre.
It promises to be an intriguing encounter between two sides who, when going head-to-head during the regular season, could not be separated.
In the eight-game Erhardt Conference series, both teams won four apiece, including twice in each other’s rinks. It really is too close to call, with both clubs desperate to capture the final piece of silverware on offer this season.
Walser, with 91 NHL appearances and over 400 games in the AHL behind him, is coming towards the end of his second season in charge at the SSE Arena and is yet to lift a trophy – the Giants last tasting success in 2014 when they achieved the league and conference double.
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And the 38-year-old defenceman insists his team will leave nothing out on the ice as they attempt to end their 2016-17 campaign on a perfect high – at the expense of the Steelers and whoever out of Cardiff Devils and Dundee Stars they may meet in the final 24 hours later.
“We’re going to lay it on the line in game one and if we get to the final,” said Walser. “Then we’ll worry about that so we have to do ourselves a favour and get the wins we need to pick up the final trophy of the year.
“Getting to the ‘dance’ though, there are too many variables about what could happen so we’re just going to go and see what happens.
“If we don’t get to the final, I’ll be disappointed, but I’ll take a lot from the year we’ve had and remain proud of the guys.”
We have the biggest respect for the Steelers and they’ve shown why they were champions two years in a row. They have a ton of character.Belfast Giants’ player-coach, Derrick Walser
Walser said he had enjoyed his team’s encounters with the Steelers this season, but had a slight score to settle after the last meeting between the two three weeks ago when a 5-3 win for the Steelers in Northern Ireland seriously hurt Belfast’s hopes of reining in eventual league champions Cardiff.
“The best thing about this game against Sheffield is that they came to us a couple of weeks ago and won, so that leaves a bitter taste in your mouth,” said Walser.
“We want to respond to that and we’ve won two in their rink. We seem to enjoy playing each other and I think both teams will want to put a show on in the right way.
“We have the biggest respect for the Steelers and they’ve shown why they were champions two years in a row. They have a ton of character.
“It’s going to be really tight for whoever reaches the final – it will be no easy path for whoever gets through.”
Steelers’ centre Andreas Valdix agrees that it is too tight to call between the two teams, particularly given that they have similar playing styles.
“They have a good team packed with strong, speedy players,” said Valdix. “They are a little bit like us in the way they play so it’s going to be a tough game. But I have a good feeling about it.
“You can tell that these play-off games are different to the regular season, everybody is hitting more and they are very tough games. The two games against Nottingham were quite tough, but I’m sure we’re going to be ready when it comes to facing Belfast.”