Braehead Clan and Fife Flyers battle for title in ice hockey play-offs

One is the new kid on the block, mixing it with the school heavy weights and hanging out with the popular posse, while the other is the disregarded senior pupil at the back of the class who has spent the majority of the term having their packed lunch pinched.

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But this weekend it's different, this weekend both of them are out to be top boy.

In the ice hockey equivalent of a high school prom, Braehead Clan and Fife Flyers will descent on Nottingham for the Elite Ice Hockey League play-off finals weekend, joining Sheffield Steelers and the Belfast Giants for the biggest prize the British game has to offer.

Come to the Evening Times later for live coverage this afternoon

While both teams have become the first Scottish teams to ever make it this far - with Clan only in existence for four years - their route to the green and pleasant land of Nottinghamshire has been a long and winding road for one, and a bit of a crash landing for the other.

Four months ago Clan went into a double header against league leaders Belfast with the opportunity to cut the gap at the top of the EIHL to just three points in their first season under Ryan Finnerty, their head coach.

As it turned out, the Northern Irish team instead extended their advantage to 11 points, with the losses not only signalling the end of a serious challenge from the Scottish club, but also the beginning of a topsy-turvy run of form which meant a place in this weekend's play-offs was only secured in the last few weeks.

However, Clan now seem to have finally got their act together.

Surprisingly 4-0 up after the first leg of their quarter-final away to Nottingham Panthers, a full house of over 3,000 at the Braehead Arena two days later witnessed a 5-1 win to blow away any hint that their season had run its course.

"It's a funny game and the mood has been good, but I suppose everything does when you're going well," said Clan captain Ash Goldie ahead of today's semi-final with Sheffield.

"It's great to get there after the year we have had and especially at a time when we have hit our stride just when we needed it the most."

The approach of Todd Dutiaume's Flyers has been entirely different.

The Kirkcaldy institution - the UK's oldest professional hockey team - remarkably strung together 11 wins from their last 14 games following a campaign of woe to seal a place in the quarter-final against Dundee Stars, only to brashly barge them aside in a 8-4 aggregate victory.

Their reward is a date with Belfast this afternoon at 1pm, a team which they managed to overcome in their mesmeric string of results.

There is little love lost between these Scottish cousins, with the Jolly Green Giant-sized Matt Nickerson of Fife being handed a 12 match ban following a meeting between the pair in December, with it later being reduced to just nine.

Not bad going considering you only get five minutes in the sin bin for a mass brawl.

But while a potential final between the two would be a dream tie for the 3000-odd Scots currently circling the National Ice Arena, Flyers associate coach Danny Stewart will not allow himself to be distracted by speculation.

"We will address a few things specifically for them but our main focus remains the same the last 6 weeks and that's to do what makes us successful," he said.

"There is a lot going on this weekend and the hype of us being there but it's important we keep an even keel and stay focused on playing good hockey."

Let the games begin.


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