For the past two seasons, the Condors have had nothing to play for heading into the final week of ECHL play. All that awaited the only Western Conference team not making the playoffs was vacations and golf courses.
Tonight and this weekend, there is plenty on the line for the Condors, who actually control their own destiny as they finish the regular season with three games in as many days.
A win (or overtime or shootout loss tonight) against their Highway 99 rivals, the Stockton Thunder, guarantees the Condors will finish ahead of the Thunder and no worse than sixth in the Western Conference.
Another win or two, coupled with one or two losses by Colorado, could lift the Condors -- who started the season 1-10-1 -- into the fifth slot.
"It's a big game," Condors coach Troy Mann said of tonight's tilt against the Thunder. "Probably the most important game we've played all year in terms of having something on the line, where if you beat a team, you're going to finish ahead of them.
"I think the goal should be to finish as high as we can and who we play in round one. Let's us determine it by finishing as high as we can with the best possible record."
While the Condors could climb to fifth, a bad weekend could drop them to seventh. That seed will play the No. 2 seed -- either Alaska or Ontario, who are in a virtual lock for first place.
The Condors have won four straight and Mann said his team should be plenty motivated. He wants to head into the playoffs playing well.
"I think we've talked about it for a couple of weeks now," he said. "We want to be playing solid hockey down the stretch."
Unlike the past few weeks, the Condors head into the final weekend of play with a full roster of healthy players.
"There was a stretch there of about five weeks where we were down in numbers," Mann said. "It feels a little bit like post-training camp now, just with a little better quality of players. There's probably some internal competition here going into the weekend which is always nice. It's nice to have options."
Defenseman Joey Leach rejoined the Condors from a stint at Oklahoma City, forcing Mann into a roster move to get down to 22 players.
Rookie winger Nick MacNeil made the decision easy, as he opted to return to the University of New Brunswick. MacNeil joined the Condors on March 17 and had six points in nine games.
"He has the potential to graduate and has a course where he has to be physically back in school to write it on May 8," Mann said. "If not, he has to redo the whole course. It's probably a no-brainer to go back and finish the degree."