ICE HOCKEY PLAY-OFFS: Smith claims Cats are the team to avoid
5:30am Friday 4th April 2014 in By Michael Reeves, Deputy sports editor
SAM Smith insists none of the other three sides involved in this weekend’s EPL play-off finals weekend will want to face in-form Swindon Wildcats.
The Link Centre side have strung together a run of eight wins from their last nine matches, including a seven-game unbeaten run, to book their place at Coventry’s Skydome on Saturday.
With league champions Manchester Phoenix standing in their way for a place in Sunday’s final against either Guildford Flames or Basingstoke Bison, the 22-year-old is in confident mood ahead of the last four clash.
“I think that we have a good chance (of winning it all),” Smith said. “I don’t think anyone will want to play us given the form we are in.
“The run that we are on shows what we are capable of, we probably have, on our day, the best team in the league.
“We have to continue to play the hockey we have been to be effective.”
However, Smith has warned of the need for Cats players to keep their cool in their semi-final clash with Phoenix.
The youngster was forced to spend 10 minutes in the box during Sunday’s dramatic quarter-final second-leg victory over Milton Keynes Lightning for attempted spearing as he clashed with Leigh Jamieson.
“I’m not normally one to react like that,” Smith said. “Their guy went to spear me and I half-heartedly speared him back.
“It was just a little scuffle in front of the net, but we can’t do that on Saturday.
“We cannot be spending time in the box considering how strong Manchester are during the power plays.”
Smith, who has been on the books of Elite League sides Cardiff Devils and Coventry Blaze, believes that Cats will be boosted by the return of Ollie Betteridge and Sam Bullas.
Betteridge missed the quarter-finals as he was away with Great Britain Under 18s, while forward Bullas was forced to sit out Sunday’s second-leg with an ankle injury sustained in the first game 24 hours earlier.
“It’ll be great to have them both back,” Smith said. “But it gave the guys an opportunity to show what they can do while they were missing.
“Having them back in the squad will just strengthen the depth that we will have this weekend.”
Should Cats prevail against Phoenix tomorrow afternoon they will have to wait until the evening to discover whether they will be facing Basingstoke or Guildford in Sunday’s final.
And Smith feels that will play into Ryan Aldridge’s side’s favour.
“I don’t think it matters who we would face if we win our match against Manchester,” Smith said.
“But I think having that extra few hours rest will definitely help us.”