Scots add colour and courage to play-offs spectacle
Waking up on a Saturday morning in Nottingham in early April gives any UK ice hockey fan the equivalent feel of a child stirring on 25 December. This is their Christmas Day.
Instead of presents and a large dinner, there are large men smashing each other into plexi-glass with the aroma of hot dogs heavy in the air.
For the first time ever at the Elite League play-offs, Flower of Scotland was sung, with followers of Braehead Clan and Fife Flyers in good voice.
Both Scottish sides left everything on the ice but had to settle for third and fourth places as Sheffield Steelers went on to edge Belfast Giants in the final.
Supporters mingled hours before Saturday's first face off at the National Ice Centre in the Lace City, sharing jokes before the lights and music lifted the atmosphere inside the arena.
The Flyers went toe-to-toe with EIHL champions Belfast Giants.
But, sadly for the Fifers, one decisive chance settled things as netminder Kevin Regan could do nothing when Kevin Saurette's snapshot flew past him in the third period.
Todd Dutiaume's men huffed and puffed, but Giants goalie Stephen Murphy's house didn't fall down. It was heartbreaking stuff and the Kirkcaldy fans can be fiercely proud of their favourites.
Later in the day, Braehead Clan also went into the third period of their semi final with a fighting chance, with a thrilling encounter locked at 2-2.
It was a hard game to call and the crowd roared on every puck struck and every hit taken. The players left it all out there but, again, the Scottish crowd were denied.
Robert Dowd's winner sent Sheffield to Sunday's final. It sent the fans from north of the border to the pub to seek solace.
But they were back on Sunday morning for more. There was to be an all-Scottish tie just not the glamour game hoped for.
The third place play-off must be one of the most cruellest exercises in sport. As if valiantly missing out on the final wasn't painful enough, they make the two losing semi finalists slug it out with each other.
Needless to say, the intensity was nothing like what we had witnessed throughout the season.
Clan were 7-6 winners in overtime after being 4-0 down, with both teams looking like they just wanted to get the game done with.
For the last five minutes, with the score at 6-6, there was a glimmer of hunger from the players as they realised bragging rights were at stake.
The weekend may have ended in disappointment for the Scots as they made their weary journeys home, but they gained many friends in Elite Ice Hockey League circles with their enthusiasm across all four games.
And that wasn't lost on Fife Flyers coach Dutiaume, who admitted he is already under pressure to bring his team back next year.
"Our fans are very demanding and they'll want us to go one better," he said. "We have to take this all in and improve on it as a hockey club.
"Usually we come to Nottingham and we face a hostile Nottingham Panthers crowd. It was fantastic to hear what felt like most of the building cheering the Scottish teams on.
"It was a fantastic weekend for Scottish ice hockey and both teams can take great credit from this experience."
As for Braehead's bench coach Frank Morris, he agrees that the weekend was great exposure for the sport in Scotland.
"I think it's been fantastic to have Scottish teams here for the first time and it's a great advert for the game north of the border," he said.
"Fife Flyers are the UK's oldest team while Braehead Clan have amassed a huge following and being at these finals gives the whole sport in Scotland something to enjoy.
"It's been badly needed and it's showing the professional game is on the rise since we had four teams join the Elite League. It spreads the word and gives something to build on."