ICE HOCKEY PLAY-OFFS: Aldridge ready to harness his young players' nervous energy

This Is Wiltshire: Ryan Aldridge Ryan Aldridge

SWINDON Wildcats head coach Ryan Aldridge says his hardest job this weekend will be managing the nerves of his players at the EPL play-off finals weekend.

With a relatively young squad, many of the Cats players will not have experienced an atmosphere like they will do tomorrow as they tackle Manchester Phoenix in their semi-final clash at the Skydome in Coventry.

And while reaching Sunday’s final against either Basingstoke Bison or Guildford will be in the back of their minds, Aldridge knows that they must stay focused for the league champions.

“The first five or 10 minutes are going to be very demanding,” he said. “There are going to be a lot of nerves out there.

“It is going to be exciting, no doubt about that, but it is my job to keep the players grounded and get them to try and treat this game like they would any other - that is going to be tough.

“We have to stay focused on Manchester first and then if we win then we can start to prepare for Sunday.”

Having been the only side to shut Manchester out this term, Cats beat them 2-0 at the Link Centre last month, Aldridge is hoping to be able to employ a similar game plan.

“Defence is going to be key to any success we have,” he said. “The side that we have means we are always going to score goals.

“So we need to make sure that we help (netminder) Stevie Lyle out, because he will be helping us out.

“We changed a few things around when we played Manchester and I think that we are going to need to do something similar again if we can.

“I think that we match up pretty well with them, but I know that I’d take my side over their’s.”

The Cats chief has also been boosted by the news that Sam Bullas will be fit to play his part in tomorrow’s semi-final clash.

The forward injured his ankle in last Saturday’s quarter-final first leg against Milton Keynes Lightning, where Cats suffered their only defeat in the last nine matches, and missed the dramatic winning return leg 24 hours later.

Aldridge will also have Ollie Betteridge at his disposal as he has returned from Great Britain Under 18s duty.

“It’ll be great to have Ollie’s energy again,” Aldridge said.

“And to have Bully fit is great news because if we can get a couple of goals up then it means that I’m able to rotate the bench more looking to keep us fresh for Sunday.”

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