Supporters of Dundee Stars today began the 350-mile trip south to Nottingham confident that their side can make history this weekend.
The Stars are in the Elite League playoff semi-finals for the first time since 2017 and have the chance to end a run of 17 years since they last won the tournament.
Buoyed by last weekend’s memorable two-legged victory over Sheffield Steelers, Omar Pacha’s men are confident of causing an upset in Saturday’s clash against Belfast Giants, who have already won the Championship and Challenge Cup this season.
A Dundee victory would set up a final showdown with Guildford Flames or the Cardiff Devils at the same venue – Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena – on Sunday.
Hundreds of Stars followers are travelling down to the English city ahead of Saturday’s 3pm kickoff, with more than three-dozen fans taking the official supporters’ coach that left from Dundee Ice Arena at 10am on Friday.
Here we talk to dedicated supporters who tell us what Dundee Stars mean to them, where they will watch the match and why they think the ice hockey club can make history in Robin Hood Country.
‘Of course we are going to win’
The sudden unwavering support of Valerie Williams and her two daughters is a tribute to Dundee Stars’ work in the community.
Three years ago the club’s commercial manager Michael Ward and a group of players dished out free tickets to pupils of Birkhill Primary School.
Among the recipients was Valerie’s daughter Libby (now aged 14) and the pair, along with Eve (now 16), attended their first match and they haven’t missed a home game since.
Valerie said: “They have totally taken to it, especially Eve.
“I had watched football but nothing beats ice hockey. It’s a great family sport, players are great, really down to earth and they spend a lot of time getting to know fans.”
Valerie, a client manager for Social Security Scotland, was unable to take Friday off work so is planning to drive to Nottingham with friend Laura McLean in the evening, arriving sometime after midnight.
“I am absolutely buzzing,” Valerie added. “Of course we are going to win. We have the best team I have ever seen. It is a massive game. Belfast are the biggest team and have won everything but they are not going to win this.”
Valerie’s excitement is dampened by the thought that this will be the last Stars match until the autumn.
“It’s very bittersweet as because you form an attachment to the players, especially this season, and you don’t know if you will ever see them again,” she said.
“You just have to hope they will come back next season. Without hockey I wonder how we will get through to September!
“In terms of sport in this city it has always been about Dundee and Dundee United but it is good to see the Stars in there because not everyone loves football.”
‘They are putting the game on the big screen’
Fans unable to make it down to Nottingham have the option to watch Saturday’s game in a Dundee pub thanks, in part, to one fan.
She explained: “The manager knows I am into the Stars so they are putting the game on the big screen.
“If I hadn’t been into it she might not have put it on but she knows I am gutted I can’t go to Nottingham so it will be on with commentary.
“I will be working but also trying to watch it as well!”
Joanna, 19, has been following the Stars this season with her friend Jess Paton, whose support goes back three years.
The pair are both from St Andrews but spend most of their time in Dundee – Joanna is a student at Dundee university and Jess is doing a course at Dundee and Angus College – so following the Stars felt more logical than Kirkcaldy-based Fife Flyers.
“We have met most of the team,” said Jess, 20. “We have Dundee Stars playing cards and got some of them signed by the players at the awards night and we came to see them train to get the ones signed that weren’t done then.
“I first saw the Stars because my mum [Gillian] wanted me to give it a try. We went to see a game against Belfast Giants for a birthday.
“I loved the atmosphere – everyone was getting into it. I loved the fans, the cheering, the chants. It was great.
“I find ice hockey more enjoyable than other sports. It is more fast-paced. It has a completely different atmosphere to football.”
Joanna added: “I don’t like the atmosphere at the football. Some fans can get a bit violent but that doesn’t happen here. It’s family oriented.”
‘I feel like a child because we are all hyped up’
John McRither is one of the Stars’ longest-serving fans having first followed the club 50 years ago when they were called Dundee Rockets.
The 74 year old watches all the club’s home games and attends away matches at the two Scottish clubs in the league – Glasgow Clan and Fife Flyers. He is also a regular at Dundee Ice Arena for weekday training sessions.
But travelling long distances is not easy at his age so he will watch this weekend’s action on Premier Sports from the comfort of his living room.
“I have great faith win the team and I think they will win,” John said “These lads combine well together and if they are up for it they will win it.
“They’ve beaten Belfast and Cardiff before and I just have that feeling they’re going to do it.
“To be in the playoffs is something special. Even if they don’t win it is a great achievement for the team, as one of the smallest teams in the league.
“I feel like a child because we are all hyped up for this game. I will struggle to sleep, maybe.
“We will beat Belfast and whoever we play in the final. I think we will do it.”
‘They don’t want to play Dundee’
Reece Sharp has greater reason than most to hope for a Stars victory this Saturday.
The 21 year old barber, from Dryburgh, has supported the club for the past nine years and would have dearly loved to have attended semi-final.
But he was unable to get the day off work because it is the busiest day of the week for his employer, Bertie’s Barbers in Broughty Ferry.
Instead he will travel to Nottingham on Saturday night in the hope that the following day he gets to watch the final, rather than a potentially anti-climactic third-fourth place match.
“I am buzzing,” he said. “Five years ago we lost to Cardiff Devils in the semi-finals but the team we have now is better.
“If we turn up the way we did against Sheffield we can beat Belfast. They said in an interview that they don’t want to play Dundee because we are unpredictable.
“The work ethic on the ice and by the coach is amazing. We had a lot of injuries at the start of the season and to get to the final four is incredible.
“I used to play when I was younger and started watching with my mates when I was 12. Ever since then have been hooked. I watch the home games and also many of the away games.
“The success of the Stars makes me really proud to be from Dundee. It’s your home team and the crowds are getting bigger and bigger.”