Cardiff Devils face four matches in eight days which can define their season.
Coach Andrew Lord and his team play Sheffield Steelers home and away in the Challenge Cup semi-finals, while they fly to Northern Ireland for back-to-back clashes with Belfast Giants in Elite League.
More than 500 fans will be in Belfast for those matches for fixtures between the first and second placed teams.
“That’s going to be incredible,” says Lord. “I am really looking forward to these matches. They underline how far this organisation has come and how hard the guys have worked to put ourselves in position.
“We need to relish these opportunities in league and cup, enjoy this time, go at it and not be afraid of making mistakes.”
Devils play Steelers away in the first leg of their semi-final this evening (Wednesday, 7.30pm).
Lord’s men have won their last four matches, beating Fife 4-1, Braehead 1-0 plus Coventry 2-1 and 3-2.
Goaltender Ben Bowns has been named League player of the week, conceding only three goals in three fixtures, and the Devils D-men have been in outstanding form.
“Our D are playing as a real unit, there is a ton of pride back there,” said Lord. “We have a 6-man crew who have learned to play with each other and within our structure.”
Devils take on Steelers this evening with the return leg at Ice Arena Wales in Cardiff Bay next Wednesday (7.30pm), while Nottingham Panthers and Belfast Giants are in the other semi-final.
“It’s going to be an unbelievable series against Steelers,” said Lord. “Two teams with a ton of depth. Steelers have great structure with two hugely experienced coaches.
“I’m excited about the challenge from that side and the guys in our locker room are excited.
“We have to be at our best from the start and ready for a different pace of play. It’s going to be extremely fast and we know how well they skate.”
Devils have played in the last three Cup finals, winning twice, and are the holders after beating Sheffield in the last final.
This season’s final is being played at Ice Arena Wales on Sunday, March 4 (4pm) and Steelers are out to ruin that day for Cardiff.
The IAW will be packed with 3,000-plus spectators and Sheffield’s Ben O’Connor says: “The atmosphere in that place was electric. The support, our travelling fans . . . unbelievable.
“We were a bit shell-shocked for the first five or 10 minutes, and they came out flying.
“I think we know what to expect now, going forward. You take experiences like that, wins and losses, and learn from them.”
O’Connor, who scored twice for Steelers in their crushing 8-0 win against Belfast Giants and has nine points from the last five games, talked of the satisfaction it would give Sheffield to play at the IAW in the final.
Two years ago Devils played Nottingham Panthers at Sheffield Arena and O’Connor remembers how that felt for Steelers players.
“We weren’t in the final and that wasn’t not very nice” he said. “You want to play in the final in your home rink. There is going to be a little bit more on the line for them.
“And we want to knock them off their perch.”
Tom Darnell and Dean Smith are referees for tonight’s game in Sheffield
Their next four fixtures are: tonight v Sheffield away, 7.30pm; Friday v Belfast away, 7pm; Saturday v Belfast away, 7pm; Wednesday, February 7 at home, 7.30pm.
Cardiff’s next Elite League match at home is against Nottingham Panthers on Sunday, February 11 (6pm).
ELITE LEAGUE STANDINGS
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