Nottingham Panthers are on the brink of one of the biggest games in their history as they prepare to face Zurich Lions in the Champions Hockey League next Tuesday.
However, head coach Corey Neilson says his players are focused on the present and writing the wrongs of the immediate past, not dreaming of more European glory in the last-16 tie.
Panthers were beaten 6-2 last time out by Cardiff Devils when they put in one of their worst performances of the season to date.
Neilson saw an immediate determination to address that, starting with a gruelling training session on Tuesday ahead of Saturday’s visit of Milton Keynes Lightning and Sunday’s trip to Coventry Blaze in the Elite League.
“Players are more focused on last Sunday than next Tuesday and Zurich. They have a lot of pride,” he said.
“They knew I was disappointed with the Cardiff game, but they were too. In terms of the future, we really just focus on today and trying to get that right.
“This was our first full week of practice since I can’t remember when.
“Tuesday was a great start. You can’t work them hard when they’ve been playing so many games.
“I could torture them a little bit on Tuesday. There was a big focus on competing.
“They worked hard and came out with an edge. There were guys slashing each other. I liked that.
“You can’t always do what we did last Saturday against Edinburgh and flip the switch to find another gear. Sometimes the switch isn’t there.
“It’s rare you have a game where 20 guys aren’t playing well. We had that against Cardiff though. The only person who played well was Mike Garnett and I pulled him to protect him.
“We were so disappointed last Sunday. We had the deep roster.
“We should be able to push through a tough schedule and we just didn’t. Is it physical? Is it mental?
“Sometimes it can be both. This time I think it was more mental fatigue. As a coach I’ve got to do a better job to get them amped up and ready.
“We stress the importance of the game obviously, but we’ve got to do better.
“Cardiff played a great game. We were poor, but even if we were good there’s no guarantee we win.
“Tactically they were very good. On the flip side we didn’t win a face-off all night.
“That’s not like us and it makes it hard. You end up spending half your shift trying to get the puck back.”
Panthers are set for the most challenging of weeks starting from Saturday. They will go to Switzerland on Monday and fly back on Wednesday before facing Guildford Flames next Friday.
Neilson admits keeping players sharp has already been a balancing act this season – and not one he has always got right.
“It’s been an awfully long start to the season. I think we’re 26, 27 games in and it’s only October. It’s been hard. The guys have worked hard,” he said.
“Managing guys’ energy levels has been the biggest struggle. When you play so much you practice less, which leads to a few problems.
“It’s a balancing act. I don’t think I got it right last week.
“There aren’t enough hours in the day to get the food, rest, train and get discipline on the ice down. It’s a struggle, but it’s always like that. Finding solutions in the challenge.”
One area that has stood Panthers in good stead is strength and conditioning. The club has poured additional resources into that area this season and they are seeing the rewards.
That is not to say they don’t have injuries, but rather they chose not to publicise them like some of them rivals – a dig at Sheffield Steelers perhaps, who have made no secret of their problems.
“We’re in a good position with our roster, our coaching and our strength and conditioning. Phil (Rippon) is keeping players healthy,” Neilson said.
“We’ve picked up knocks. We don’t make them public for good reason.
“We don’t tell people so those injuries can be targeted. On Sunday there was some physical stuff and Dan Spang was puking on the bench.
“We’ve got to play through those things though.”