Challenge Cup final: Sheffield Steelers v Cardiff Devils (Sun)

By Philip MarshBBC Sport Wales
James Bettauer of Steelers and Mark Louis of Devils drop the gloves
Sheffield Steelers' James Bettauer and Mark Louis of Cardiff Devils dropped the gloves earlier this season
Elite League - Challenge Cup Final
Venue: Viola Arena, Cardiff Date: Sunday, 8 March Face-off: 16:00 GMT

Silverware, bragging rights and maybe a psychological edge in the league are all up from grabs on Sunday afternoon.

The Sheffield Steelers and Cardiff Devils will go head-to-head once again in the Challenge Cup final in the Welsh capital.

The two rivals, and the Elite League's top two sides, face off for the second time in three days following Friday's 7-3 home win by Devils in the Elite League.

But this time the Viola Arena will be a neutral venue, as Devils and Steelers fans have half the stadium each.

Since the Elite League was formed in 2003 the Steelers have won more league titles than any other team - five - but in the 16 seasons Sheffield have never got their hands on the Challenge Cup.

That is not for the want of trying though, the Steelers have reached the final six times in those 16 years, but have come up short on each occasion.

The two most recent of those, in 2015 and 2017, they were thwarted by Sunday's opponents Cardiff Devils, who also lifted the trophy in 2006.

For Devils coach Andrew Lord and a number of the players the Challenge Cup holds fond memories as it was the first trophy they won under the current ownership.

In January, Devils owner Brian Parker spoke of the final in 2015 and said "to see grown men crying on the ice and in the stand really hit home the gravity of the whole thing".

There may not be tears on Sunday, but the winner will be taking home the season's first trophy, and perhaps crucially, momentum going into the final games of the Elite League season.

Journey to the final

Sheffield Steelers fans
Sheffield Steelers have won the Elite League play-offs on five occasions

As far as journeys to cup finals go, the Steelers' made this one look simple.

Sheffield Steelers topped their Challenge Cup group earlier in the season, finishing above Nottingham Panthers on games won.

After winning the play-in game, Manchester Storm were picked by the Steelers as their quarter-final opponents and a 5-2 victory in the first-leg ensured Sheffield progressed with a draw in the second.

A tough test against Glasgow Clan was expected in the semi-final, but a clinical Steelers side turned up in Scotland to win the first-leg 5-1.

And the same fate awaited Clan in Sheffield on the return leg as the Steelers won 4-0 to secure their place in the final with a 9-1 aggregate win.

While Steelers cruised into the final, it was not plain sailing for Devils.

Cardiff Devils
Cardiff Devils lost 6-3 to the Belfast Giants in the 2018 Challenge Cup final

They were one defeat away from having to face Storm in the play-in match after three successive Challenge Cup defeats.

But a shootout winning goal from Sean McMonagle meant Coventry Blaze went on to play Storm and Devils progressed automatically.

Devils and last season's Challenge Cup winners Giants faced one-another in the quarter-finals after the group winners opted to avoid playing them.

Cardiff took a narrow 1-0 lead back to the Viola Arena after victory in Northern Ireland and they won the second-leg 4-0 to set up a semi-final against Panthers.

After the first leg ended 5-5 Devils were staring at elimination once again as Panthers led 8-6 with less than 10 minutes remaining.

But Cardiff fought back from the brink, and scored three goals in under five minutes to book their place in the final.

View from both camps

Sheffield Steelers head coach Aaron Fox said:

"Cardiff are a veteran group, they are the benchmark, and I know they will be ready to go so for us it is a great challenge which is what you're looking for at this time in the season.

"I'm looking forward to it, I am sure the players are too. The season is a grind but the fans expect you to win here, that is what drew me to this club.

"And this final is a great start, if you had told me last summer we had a chance of winning all the trophies with eight games remaining I'd have taken that for sure.

"We have closed the gap and now we have given ourselves the opportunity to go and win trophies, the next step is to seal the deal."

Cardiff Devils head coach Andrew Lord said:

"It's huge, any trophy, you name it, and we are going to go for it. That's the make-up of our organisation.

"The Challenge Cup has some sentimental value for us, it was the first trophy we won six years ago under the new ownership and that was against Sheffield.

"I was player and coach back then, and personally I scored the first goal that day. It was an unbelievable night and surreal

"This one will be interesting, the two fan bases going head-to-head will bring a little extra and it will be a great spectacle for the entire league."

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