#POFW17 '“ fitting finale to ice hockey season

Play-off finals weekend has always been about more than the hockey.

It doesn’t even matter if your team is there or not as you enjoy a long weekend of sport, beer, chat and maybe a sore head or two.

The location has changed over the decades, but the event retains a special atmosphere.

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The legendary Wembley pilgrimages are now a distant, but still warm, memory – can it really be circa 1993/94 that Mo, Smail and Kummu skated there with Fife Flyers? The faded colour from the group pictures underline how much time has passed ...

For the current generation of hockey fans, Nottingham IS Wembley, and it’s a darned good alternative too.

Behind the scenes you get a real sense of the scale of the show.

The media centre sits in the basement next to the referees’ rooms, and just along from the main dressing-rooms. It buzzes with activity every minute of the morning, afternoon and evening.

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Stand on the walkway four floors up and you look down on a sea of hockey tops. It’s a kaleidoscope of colour; one that changes every time more fans pour through the doors.

And, regardless of your team’s form, or indeed their complete absence, the atmosphere is always upbeat.

Three games in two days is a hockey fan’s idea of heaven – well, four if you count the third-fourth place play-off which almost no-one does. It’s not called the Hangover Cup for nothing.

The morning after the night before is not a time to watch hockey, let alone play it, and asking players to lace up just hours after the adrenalin and pain of a semi-final defeat is still flowing their veins is nonsense.

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The cutting edge of competitive hockey is reserved for Saturday’s semi-finals, and the showcase finale on Sunday.

This year’s match-ups are particularly fascinating.

Dundee Stars fly the flag for Scotland, making their first finals weekend appearance, and they couldn’t have landed tougher semi-final opposition than Cardiff Devils.

They’re up against the league champions who have swept all the silverware so far – league, conference and Challenge Cup.

They face-off at lunchtime, followed by a real heavyweight contest between Belfast Giants and Sheffield Steelers.

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Both teams combine skill and strength, and both have clear expectations of reaching Sunday’s final.

Giants had the more comfortable journey through the quarter-finals, eliminating Fife Flyers 8-3 on aggregate, while Steelers did stare down the barrel of elimination after coughing the opening period 4-0 to their old foes, Nottingham. That they rallied sufficiently to keep the tie alive, and then claim the victory in dramatic style underlines the spirit and attitude within the dressing-room.

Giants will almost certainly enjoy the backing of the neutrals in the arena. That won’t bother Steelers in the slightest - they’re used to it.

By Sunday, the season will be over and #POFW17 will be consigned to the archives.

So, let’s make it a great one ...

>> If you are on Twitter follow @fifefreepressed for live updates across the weekend and use the hashtag #POFW17