Ice hockey: Martin Cingel’s showpiece final hopes

EDINBURGH CAPITALS travel to Northern Ireland this afternoon, in preparation for tomorrow night’s Elite League play-off quarter-final first leg clash with Belfast Giants, before both teams return to 
Murrayfield for Sunday’s second leg (face-off 6pm).

Capitals’ club captain, Martin Cingel, admitted that if Edinburgh were to knock off Belfast, who finished second in the league, winning the Erhardt Conference along the way, and progress to next weekend’s play-off finals in Nottingham, it would be the crowning achievement in his ten-year career with the club.

He said: “It would be unreal. After all my years with Edinburgh it would be something really special. Not just for me, but for the fans, and the other players that have been here a long time like Neil Hay and Danny McIntyre.”

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The 37-year-old added jokingly: “On a personal level, to play at the finals weekend would be my greatest achievement ... and I’d finally be able to hang up my skates and retire.”

Edinburgh have never made it to UK ice hockey’s showpiece event, and Cingel knows only too well that toppling the 
Giants, based on aggregate scores over the two legs, is a mighty proposition for the small budget club and in many respects tomorrow’s game in Belfast, where they have suffered 9-1 and 5-0 defeats, is about damage limitation.

He said: “You have to remember these guys finished second in the league and won their conference, they have a pretty good team out there. They create a lot of chances, and put pressure on you all the time.

“If we lose by three or four tomorrow then realistically our chances have gone. If we can keep it tight over there, even if we come out of it one or two goals down, then we have a great chance. It’s all about keeping it close for the home leg; we all know how well we can play at Murrayfield where we beat them only a few weeks ago, and Sunday’s aggregate score is the only one that matters.”

Cingel revealed that in the build-up to the big game all is well in the Capitals camp, saying “In terms of practice it’s been just like any other week, we’re sticking with the things that have worked well for us these last few months, but there’s been a real buzz in the locker room, and a lot of great banter between the guys.”

The man tasked with thwarting an Edinburgh victory is ex-Capitals player-coach, and current Giants boss, Doug Christiansen. The American, a Milwaukee native, spent three years at Murrayfield where he was nicknamed “The Office” for his meticulous approach to recruiting players and studying opponents. Now in his third season as Giants coach, he appears to have left no stone unturned in his bid to make sure that last year’s league champions make it to their fourth straight finals weekend.

He said: “We’ll be after them for 120 minutes. We’re going to try and play the games at our pace, and make good consistent decisions with the puck.

“We must make sure we’re smart against Edinburgh’s counter attack. Nottingham and Edinburgh are the two best teams off the rush in the Elite League. Edinburgh are absolutely outstanding at going from defence to attack.

“We’re going to have to be physical, and we’re going to have to be gritty but we’re 
going to make sure we do it intelligently and stay out of the penalty box because Edinburgh has a very good power-play. They have improved it a full 5% since the turn of the year, which gives them something like a 25% success rate.

“The Caps had the best overall league point total amongst teams from the Gardiner Conference, they had seven wins against teams from our conference, and they beat us fair and square the last time we were in Edinburgh.”