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Clan tame Panthers and go after bigger game

Chris Frank emerged exhausted from the bowels of the Braehead Arena on Saturday night as he lurched from the home dressing room laden with bags, gifts and a new found sense of pride.

Chris Frank missed Clan's first-leg win in Nottingham to be at the birth of his child. Picture: Al Goold
Chris Frank missed Clan's first-leg win in Nottingham to be at the birth of his child. Picture: Al Goold

Yet the reasons for the dark shadows under his eyes and the worry lines upon his brow, or indeed the heart pumping furiously within his chiselled chest, go much deeper than the 60 minutes of gripping ice hockey which he was at the centre of just moments earlier.

The Braehead Clan defenceman was part of an astonishing display in which his club progressed to the Elite Ice Hockey League play-off finals - the first Scottish club to do so - in a 9-1 aggregate win over Nottingham Panthers. They will face either Coventry Blaze or Sheffield Steelers who play the 2nd leg of their quarter-final on Tuesday.

But while his team-mates were recording a 4-0 first-leg win on Thursday to tee up Saturday's 5-1 victory, Frank was 288 miles away in the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley, where his fiancee Gem gave birth to their first child, Jax Samuel Frank.

The new arrival was welcomed into the world just hours before that triumph on Thursday - with the American parading the tot after Saturday night's second-leg win - and the 28-year-old acknowledged the past week has been the most special of his life.

"The last three or four days have been exhausting, that's for sure," he said. "It's been amazing, not a lot of sleep, but there is nothing else like it. This is our first baby so my mom flew over from Seattle, Gem's family came up so it's been awesome.

"I was still in the hospital when I saw the first-leg score and it just made my day that bit better. And to win with such a great result on Saturday has put me on Cloud Nine. The baby was due on the previous Thursday but he was born at 8:43am this Thursday at 9lbs 4oz, so he's a big boy. I got a lot of good pictures with him in the sin bin on Saturday night- it's a spot I know well. If he ever plays he'll be the same."

While Frank went off to wet the baby's head on Saturday night, his Clan team-mates needed little excuse to celebrate. In front of a full house at the Braehead Arena, the home side blew away the early threat posed by the Panthers, countering their opener with five goals to put the tie beyond any doubt.

Even the petulance of the opposition was not enough to make Braehead waver from their steady path, as their visitors racked up an incredible 13 penalties - including a game ban - amid a series of trips, punches and hissy fits as they dropped their sticks and reached for the handbags.

The feat of reaching the finals in Nottingham confirms this as the finest season in Clan's four-year history. Under the stewardship of Canadian head coach Ryan Finnerty, the Scottish side have managed to recover from a dismal run of form - during which the went from title favourites to within a few games of missing out on the play-offs altogether - to recover their form at just the right time.

With a large support expected to follow them down to the finals next week, their American defenceman is proud to fly the Scottish flag high. "I had a taste of the play-off finals weekend when I was with Cardiff, although unfortunately I got injured," said Frank. "It's even better that we are the first Scottish team to get there. That was in the back of our minds.

"Playing professionally in North America is a great experience but you don't get the fan bases like you do over here. They bring that football mentality, with things like chants and singing. Back home you get the odd applause, but over here it's more of a wild atmosphere.

"I couldn't tell you what's going to happen next season with the family and everything. But if I'm in the UK this is definitely the place that I want to play again."

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