A very personal article from Paul Balm reflecting on Panthers winning the 2017 Continental Cup

As I sit and write this I’m in that weirdly quiet lull period where the initial ecstasy has faded and realisation has only just started to kick in, but it’s being kept back by disbelief and certain knowledge that what you’ve just seen couldn’t have actually happened. Realisation won’t give in though, it keeps try to batter the doors of disbelief down, so it keeps popping up in your head in waves only to be fought back down. It wins through in the end though, it has to it has truth on it’s side and that’s when the euphoria rises again. But, for now, as I sit here waiting to start recording a special podcast it’s time to quietly reflect on what’s just happened.

Trying to get my head around what I’ve just witnessed is no mean task. Sport is full of hyperbole and it’s all too easy to start throwing phrases around at every given opportunity and if you do they lose their potency. If you describe everything as huge then nothing is anymore. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t events that those phrases or words should be used for. Events, in fact, that demand those words. This weekend has been one of those events. This has been nothing short of massive.

Massive for the Nottingham Panthers certainly but for British ice hockey? Definitely. If it wasn’t on the map yet then it will be after that this and if it was then it’ll stand out that little bit more. Let’s hope the Elite League use it to their advantage. I’d love to see them advertising themselves as the home of the Continental Cup champions (the battering ram of realisation just struck the doors again). In a time when the league and its team owners seem to lurch from one PR disaster to another here’s a good story. I really hope they can see that and use it.

But, let’s face it it’s bigger for the Nottingham Panthers than anyone else. It really is massive for us. This has to go down as one of the biggest nights in our history. We’ve come a long way and if I’m honest it’s taken us a long time. We’ve ended up going down so many wrong turnings so many times that you’ve had to doubt (well I have) if we’d ever get where we were going, wherever that was. If you’d told me back in 1980 that we’d end up one day as the Champions of Europe (regardless of the opposition) then I’d have laughed in your face but then again I’d probably have done the same (I’m almost sure I did) in December as well.

I realised this afternoon that I’ve gone through the whole range of emotions during this Continental Cup campaign. Back in Septemer I just didn’t want to know about it, it was a distraction at best and could possibly end up blighting our season at worst. I’d gone through disinterest, I didn’t see any of the round in Odense, choosing to go away for the weekend instead. I even forgot that the third game was being played as I walked the semi-deserted streets of an out of season Skegness (you should try it, it’s great) until I got the text message telling me someone had scored. Even when I got the text I wasn’t really that bothered. I didn’t think we were going to win it so what did it matter whether I remembered that it was happening or not. I’m going away next month, I’d better check if we’ve got a game, I don’t think we have but I’ve learned my lesson. Since then there’s been a certain amount of anticipation and expectation. You get through to the final of something and you think to yourself maybe, just maybe we could be on to something here, something could happen. I wouldn’t say I ever felt that confident which I know won’t surprise my regular reader (hello Joe). I might have over played the negativity in the past for comic effect but it’s always been rooted in truth. I’m not that sort of person.

Then we got to the weekend itself and I ended up forgetting about it again. I had to work on Friday afternoon so I missed the first game completely. I guess I’ll find time to watch it again sometime soon but who knows when? You know what happened so there’s no need to go over it again but that result and the one later that night changed my mind again. Hope entered the frame. That feeling that we could actually do what no team from this country had ever done. Finally, today, we had trepidation and jubilation. I’m used to the first, not as used to the last and I hope I never get too used to it. Winning cups is great and we can never forget that, if we lose the feeling getting something we weren’t expecting then we have lost the one thing that makes nights like this so special.

It is special and no amount of comments about how the quality of opposition has declined since the start of the Champions League will change that. They might be right when they say that but how many of them wouldn’t want to see their team in Panthers’ position tonight? I doubt I’d need a second hand to count them on. It made me laugh to see how many people wanted to take so much time telling the world how they wanted the Panthers to fail, how they were suddenly from Denmark or Kazakhstan or Italy. If that’s what people want to do then fine, that’s up to them. Each to their own and, let’s face it, I’m not in much of a position to talk given my misgivings am I? What they’ve got to understand though is that I doubt Panthers gave their comments a second thought (I doubt if they gave them a first thought but that’s not how the saying goes). The comments are like flies to an elephant. The elephant might know the flies are there but they’re so inconsequential to it that it takes no notice and continues what it was doing. They’re also inconsequential in comparison to the number of messages of good luck and congratulations from around the league and beyond. Haters are going to hate, always will. Just let them get on with it, see where it gets them.

It feels weird sitting here writing this now (the podcast is long finished, I’m a much quicker talker than I am writer but I do tend to ramble about as much). It felt weird watching us win something on the webcast. I was never going to be able to go to Ritten for numerous reasons (I can’t beat Tina’s though and you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out what that was) but I sort of wish I’d been in The Legend or Saltbox. I’ve never been used to a situation where there were only three of us watching us win a trophy. I missed the camaraderie and the rush of adrenalin that being in a group can give you at times like that. Birds of a feather flock together and there’s a reason for that, we want to be with people who understand us, people who know what we are feeling and are feeling the same way too. Think about the playoffs, the party in the plaza after we’ve won, waiting for the team to arrive on the balcony. Don’t get me wrong I was with people who understand, who felt the same way but somehow it felt different. But, given who I was with, there’s also part of me that wouldn’t have had it any other way. Those people are special to me and to share a moment like that was, well… special.

I’ll finish now. I want to find out if I can actually get any sleep before work tomorrow (that’s the other thing that’s different, I’m sat drinking a bottle of Beck’s Blue on my own). I want to finish on something that I was supposed to say earlier but I couldn’t work out where to fit it in. There’s one thing more important than any of this. More important that we won and definitely a lot more important than any of my misgivings. It’s a five letter word, easy to ignore but impossible to change. First. The Nottingham Panthers are the first team from this country to win the Continental Cup. Nothing will ever change that. Teams from this country can win it time and time again in the future and I hope they do but they can’t take that five letter word from the Panthers.

I’m glad I got it wrong.

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