RYAN FINNERTY, the Braehead Clan head coach, will send his team out "all guns blazing" in the Elite League Play-off finals, having achieved a career goal at the third time of asking.
Clan make their debut in the event this weekend after a remarkable 9-1 aggregate win over Nottingham Panthers in their quarter-final, with Sheffield Steelers awaiting in Saturday's semi-finals. While Belfast Giants are favourites to build on their regular season title, the fact that Clan beat Panthers - the holders, and recent Challenge Cup winners - has been a huge source of encouragement for the Braehead coach and his team.
Finnerty is not prepared simply to enjoy the moment. "We haven't had a whole lot to play for in recent weeks, and this is a team that, if there is nothing on the line, they don't play well," said the head coach. "We've not been great in the last few months but we've saved it for the right time, and here we go. We beat the Challenge Cup winners 9-1 on aggregate and we are going to go in all guns blazing.
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"We're not just happy to be there; we're going to win it. I've had two attempts at getting to the finals weekend with Sheffield and I failed, so it means a lot. It's been haunting me for a few years, but the jinx has been broken now."
The Canadian rightly takes pride in what he has built this season, given that he could count on the fingers of one glove how many players remained following a summer exodus from the Braehead Arena a year ago. His movement in the market has been shrewd: acquisitions like Joel Champagne, Ed McGrane, Lee Esders and Shane Lust have been more than capable replacements for now forgotten favourites Jade Galbraith, Jordan Krestanovich, Brock McPherson and Drew Miller. Goaltender Kyle Jones has been imposing figure between the pipes. "Kyle has been awesome; he's backed us right up all year," said Finnerty. "He's our players' player of the year, and he's our MVP. He has kept us in games at times and has given us a solid base."
Finnerty's vision is firmly on the long term, despite involvement in this weekend's finals. The former San Angelo Saints player signed a new deal with Clan last week and he is content to build on the apparently solid foundations laid over the past 12 months. "I've been a part of a lot of organisations and this is the biggest one where the players really do love the fans," added the coach.
"There is a camaraderie between the two; winning does that. When the rink is as it has been lately, it's the best place to play in the Elite League. The fans live and die through us and that's a big responsibility. We have a vision of where we want to go and a lot of goals."