To those who may not be familiar with ice hockey, the importance and structure of the playoffs may be lost on them.
During the 30 gruelling weeks of the season, every team goes through ups and downs, with player injuries, transfers and other unforeseen incidents such as match postponements, all of which can affect the outcome of the season.
But during those harsh, competitive weeks, the playoff picture gradually comes into focus and at the end of the road, which clubs are going to take part in the playoffs and what position they find themselves in is determined once and for all.
“Now or never”
The playoffs are played over three weeks and are much more intense than the regular season as every weekend half the teams are eliminated in a knock-out style competition.
During the regular season, a loss doesn’t necessarily determine the final position or the outcome of the whole season; but during the playoffs, the players have to be at their best as they are only given one chance to prove themselves—or face elimination.
John Scott, CEO of the London Raiders, confirmed, “With the league, a loss is not normally an immediate problem, but with play-offs the players cannot afford to leave any energy unused. It’s now or never.”
What makes the playoffs so important is that anyone can win despite their league placement. Scott added:
“There have been many instances where the league champions do not go on to win the playoffs and a good team that has suffered injury issues or perhaps has changed several players at the end of the season will fancy their chances of upsetting the league champions.”
He added, “It also keeps interest in the season till the very last game. Where the league has been won by a runaway leader, such as Chelmsford this season, the other teams will still maintain their efforts and energy knowing the playoffs can still be won by anyone.”
Raiders to the quarterfinals
The London Raiders are one of the teams fancying their chances in the playoffs, and they will find themselves facing their most recent league opposition, Oxford City Stars for the first weekend of the playoffs.
Confidence and focus will be essential as each team have their sights set on playing in the finals. The Raiders are aiming to move through and be drawn against Chelmsford as it would give them a great opportunity to prove their toughness and enact their revenge against the champions for previous losses in the league.
But to face the Chieftains, the Raiders will first have to assert supremacy over Oxford City, who proved to be a challenging side during the season, especially on home ice with a fanatical crowd behind them.
To reach the semifinal and prove themselves against Chelmsford, London will have to stay focused and call on all their skill, particularly during the away leg of the quarterfinal.
The quarterfinals, played over two legs, will begin this weekend. The Raiders will host the Stars at the Lee Valley Ice Centre on Saturday at 5:30 pm before travelling to Oxford on Sunday, and if league results are anything to go by, the quarterfinals will be an exciting, high-tempo affair.