BEN O’CONNOR believes Sheffield Steelers’ can draw on their experience of last year’s Elite League play-off triumph to help them repeat the same heroics this weekend.
The South Yorkshire club go into their semi-final clash with arch-rivals Nottingham Panthers at the National Ice Centre tomorrow in the same situation as when they entered the Final Four Weekend 12 months ago – without silverware and in desperate need of salvaging their season.
On that occasion they were able to negotiate their way past a stubborn Belfast Giants side in the last four before going on 24 hours later to deny the Cardiff Devils a treble in the final, Levi Nelson’s memorable winning goal in the second period of overtime sealing a 6-5 triumph.
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And experienced GB international defenceman O’Connor, who finished the regular season as his team’s top points scorer with 19 goals and 46 assists in 65 games, is confident of history repeating itself – although preferably with a slightly less tense grand finale.
“The fact it is Nottingham in a play-off semi-final at the NIC means we don’t really need any more incentive,” said 29-year-old O’Connor. “I think it has been seven or eight years since Nottingham and Sheffield met in a play-off semi-final down there, so it is going to be electric. It is effectively their home rink and they enjoy playing there – but we have had success there too this season.
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“We’re a winning organisation. We want to win, whether it is the league, cup or play-offs – and this is our last opportunity to win a trophy this year.”
Nottingham won that last play-off semi-final meeting back in 2011, when a Robert Lachowicz overtime winner enabled the Panthers to go on and win the first of three straight post-season titles.
The Steelers earned play-off revenge in memorable fashion last season, however, when an overtime winner from Guillaume Desbiens put them through to the final four at Nottingham’s expense with a 7-6 aggregate triumph.
Preview regular season meetings between the two sides will count for little tomorrow as the two sides battle it out for the right to face either Cardiff or Fife Flyers from the other semi-final.
But O’Connor is confident the Steelers can produce a repeat show this weekend.
“The fact it is our trophy to lose as defending champions also drives us on,” he added. “We’ve done it before and we know what to expect. We’re confident – we’ve had a good week of practice, the boys are feeling good, everybody is healthy and it’s a good place to be right now.”
The fact it is Nottingham in a play-off semi-final at the NIC means we don’t really need any more incentiveSheffield Steelers’ Ben O’Connor