By Wednesday night, we’ll know the finalists of the 2019/2020 Challenge Cup as Cardiff Devils, Glasgow Clan, Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers all take to the ice, but who will progress?
One tie looks like it could be a formality as we enter the second leg, while the other is on a knife edge as all four sides look towards a day of destiny at Cardiff’s Viola Arena on Sunday 8th March.
How will the ties fare? Who will find their way through to the final as we look set to have two different finalists from last year? Who could make the difference in the second legs? We preview the night ahead.
SHEFFIELD STEELERS (5) vs GLASGOW CLAN (1) – Fly DSA Arena, 7.30pm
The current form of the Steelers compared to the recent struggles of the Clan suggest this one could be theoretically over before we even begin. But is it that clean cut?
Aaron Fox’s side have six straight wins on the board in recent games, not to mention eight wins in their last nine and probably the only team in the Elite League that have hit top form all season.
Having never won the Challenge Cup in the EIHL era hangs like a millstone round their neck and something they’re keen to put right, especially with Fox seeking a first trophy since joining the club.
WATCH: First leg action as Clan go down 5-1 to the Steelers
As for Clan, Sunday’s 3-2 win over Fife Flyers was badly needed and most welcomed, but the Steelers are a different kettle of fish for Zack Fitzgerald’s side.
Defeats in each of the last five meetings between them sends the form book lurching in favour of Sheffield, but an early goal or two might pose some questions.
Clan have never reached any final since joining the league in 2010 and in this, their third Challenge Cup semi final, anything’s possible, but stopping an in-form Steelers team might be a tall order.
CHALLENGE CUP FACT: Sheffield pair David Phillips and Brendan Connolly will be the only two players with Challenge Cup winners’ medals, having both won the tournament with Belfast Giants in the past. Phillips won it in 2009, while Connolly was in the victorious Giants team in 2018.
BRENDAN CONNOLLY (Sheffield Steelers) – The former Clan favourite is racking up points for fun in this Steelers team and his direct style of play, tenacity and good skating make him a dangerous man. Five points in his last three games suggest he’s hitting form again.
TRAVIS EHRHARDT (Glasgow Clan) – The defenceman is always a solid presence at the back as he moves it around well and his distribution is good. He also has a wicked shot from the blue line and one or two of those could cause problems around the crease.
NOTTINGHAM PANTHERS (5) vs CARDIFF DEVILS (5) – Motorpoint Arena, 7.30pm
(LIVE ON FREESPORTS FROM 7pm)
This is a tantalising tie with both sides having shared ten goals between them in the first leg just last week so where it could do is anyone’s guess.
You could argue that Cardiff might have a psychological edge after winning 4-2 in a league clash between the two on Sunday and the fact they’ve won in the only meeting between them in Nottingham this season.
Both sides have winning pedigree in this competition so know what it takes to go on and lift the trophy, especially Devils’ Blair Riley, who has won the tournament in the last two years with Belfast Giants.
WATCH: Cardiff take league points over Nottingham
Cardiff and Nottingham both come into the game in identical form, with two wins, two losses and the first leg draw. The main difference is that Devils are fresh from two wins, with Panthers on the back of two losses.
In Nottingham, the 5-3 for the Devils in October was their first in their previous seven attempts so Panthers, it can be argued have the edge on that form.
This one has the potential to go the distance with a date in Cardiff and a crack at another trophy for these two, it will make for a great watch.
CHALLENGE CUP FACT: Cardiff Devils’ Matthew Myers is the most decorated player in Challenge Cup history, having won it seven times. He’s won it five times with the Panthers and his last two have been for Cardiff.
SAM HERR (Nottingham Panthers): A standout player for the Panthers under Tim Wallace this season and has enjoyed a great year in the UK so far. His scoring record in 2020 stands at 15 points in 10 games in all competitions and is capable of nabbing the big goals.
JOEY HADDAD (Cardiff Devils): Ever the man for the big occasion, Haddad has hit a good run of form in arguably his most productive campaign for the Devils. He’s picked up 11 points in his last seven games and at least two points in each of his last three appearances. A danger man worth watching.