ROB Wilson is confident a bumper home crowd can prove decisive at the Metro Radio Arena this evening as his ambitious Newcastle Vipers attempt to secure a place in the Challenge Cup final.
The Tynesiders trail Nottingham Panthers 5-4 following last week’s pulsating semi-final first leg in the East Midlands, but so slender is the advantage, the tie hangs in the balance.
More than 3,000 supporters are expected to be in attendance tonight as the Elite League high-flyers bid to reach the domestic season’s first major final.
Wilson believes the atmosphere off the ice will be as important as the action on it.
“We’re all aware that one goal would level the tie and if we can get it, with our crowd behind us, it will be wide open,” said Newcastle’s head coach.
“We’ll be the side on our home rink this time and that will be a massive advantage. The big crowd can tip the balance – it can be worth a one-goal head-start.
“I’m hoping the fans turn out in their droves to see us reach the season’s first major final. I’m confident we’ll make it difficult for Nottingham at home.”
Panthers coach Mike Ellis has strengthened his roster since last week’s first-leg win and netminder Tom Askey, a player with NHL experience, is expected to make his debut against the Vipers this evening. The New Yorker played in America’s elite league for the Anaheim Ducks and has also tasted action in Finland and Switzerland.
Ellis hopes the 33-year-old can thwart Nottingham’s attack-minded opponents but Wilson knows a place in the final remains in his side’s grasp.
“We’ve still got everything to play for,” he said. “We would have liked it to have been even after the first leg, but one goal levels it and we’ve still got a good chance to progress. This is a huge game for us and I’m hoping we’ll be able to send our fans through to the final. To do that would give us a huge lift.”
Andre Payette is relishing tonight’s showdown and a Canadian keen to collect his second Challenge Cup winners’ medal last night insisted he does not fear going head-to-head with Ryan Shmyr having clashed with the Nottingham enforcer during past meetings.
“I’ve never shied away from anyone and if a confrontation happens, then it happens,” said the Vipers favourite.
“We’ve got four more meetings with Nottingham and they’ll get what’s coming to them.
“All I’m interested in doing is winning.”
Tonight’s winners will face either Cardiff Devils or Sheffield Steelers, tied at 4-4 following their semi-final first-leg this week, in the final.
TICKETS for this evening’s big game will be on sale until face-off (7.15pm).