Sheffield Steelers walked proudly into Nottingham last Saturday and took two points off their most deadly rivals. They have the chance to do it all over again on Saturday, this time at the Motorpoint Arena.
Close on 7,000 fans were in Nottingham and a similar number is expected in Sheffield, showing the huge appeal and excitement of a game between the two biggest ice hockey teams in the land.
Last week I woke with a sickly feeling in the pit of my stomach, a feeling only reserved for the day of a game between the Steelers and the Panthers.
For 20 years I have had that similar feeling as there’s something extra special about those days and those games.
I didn’t eat all day, I couldn’t. I worked the Saturday morning in Birmingham but I was useless. I did nothing, I couldn’t as my head was full of Steelers and Panthers. I arrived at Nottingham three hours before face off. I will be at the Arena in Sheffield on Saturday five hours before. Why? I’m not playing and I can’t do anything for those hours that lead up to these games.
I just feel I need to be there, for no one else other than for myself. I want to take in the experience, the feeling of what is a Steelers-Panthers day. I’m not the only one. Others arrive much earlier than they need to, players included. Some players will try and play it down that they have to treat these games the same as every other. If that’s the case why will the whole Steelers team be in the room 30, 45 or 60 minutes earlier than normal?
Easy – because it isn’t just another game; it’s the biggest games the Steelers play all year. Players quickly learn upon arriving in Sheffield that these games mean the most to the fans and the club.
You’re no different. Come Saturday you will leave the house earlier than you need. You will not walk around the concourse when you arrive, you will be in your seats.
You may not take too much notice of the pre-game warm up when Coventry and Cardiff come into town but you will watch the warm up on Saturday, take it in and feel the atmosphere. This isn’t any night, this is a Panthers night. You feel every hit, you take every shot, you make every save, you throw every punch.
You don’t care if it’s a good game or a bad one. In fact you would pay double your ticket price just for a win because against the Panthers winning is the only thing that matters.
It’s highly likely you won’t enjoy the game. It will be painful and your stomach will feel like it doesn’t belong to any part of your body. Only the final hooter sounding off and the realisation that the Steelers have won will bring back normality.
You’ll regain your appetite, that headache you’ve had all day will go instantly and a smile will appear on your face that will last for an age. You will have a good week at work or school because that’s how these games get to you, that’s what makes them so incredible.
Anything that can make you feel like that must mean something, anything that can make you hurt that way must be worth fighting for.
Those of you reading this may be thinking ‘This guy has lost the plot!’ You may well be right but until you have experienced a Steelers v Nottingham Panthers game you won’t know for sure.
If you want an experience that you never knew existed in this city and will excite and drive you, then I guess we will see you at the Motorpoint Arena on Saturday. Face off is at 7pm and the doors open at 6pm but we will all be there a lot earlier. Come and join us.