Freesports commentator Aaron Murphy sees no reason why Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils shouldn’t think they’re capable of progression in this season’s Champions Hockey League.
The puck drops on the 2019/2020 edition of the continental competition with the top two from the Elite League getting ready to take on the cream of Europe’s top leagues.
And Murph reckons early points in the opening two games in the next week can set the tone for them as they look to reach the last 16.
“I remember the draw in May and I texted members from both teams and telling them this was okay for them and they could be hopeful of advancing, with the top two going through,” he said.
“If things align for them and you can get a bounce or two, they’ll want to get some points at home and set the tone. They could do what the Panthers did and grow into the tournament as it goes on, surprising one or two teams along the way.
“Both Belfast and Cardiff are not here to make up the numbers and both teams will aspire to progress. A lot of things have to go to plan, but there’s no reason to think of why they both couldn’t get out of the group stage.
🏒 Ice Hockey returns to FreeSports very soon 👀
Live coverage of Belfast Giants & Cardiff Devils' Champions Hockey League group games on FreeSports!
Game Day 1⃣:
🤲 Belfast Giants v Liberec 🇨🇿
📅 29 August
😈 Cardiff Devils v Mountfield HK 🇨🇿
📅 30 August
⏰ 7.30pm pic.twitter.com/P01dMzhzSu
— FreeSports 📺 (@FreeSports_TV) August 13, 2019
“Those first two games are crucial and if you get something from those to start off, it can keep your account going.”
Belfast make their CHL debut on Thursday when they host Czech Republic side Bili Tygri Liberec while Cardiff Devils take on fellow Czech side Mountfield on Friday.
They both continue at home with the Giants entertain German outfit Augsburger Panther on Saturday followed by Andrew Lord’s side facing Graz 99ers on Sunday.
Since the tournament began in 2014, Nottingham Panthers are the only team to make it beyond the first stage when they got as far as the last 16 two seasons ago in a great campaign.
With GB surviving in the World Championships in the manner they did, Murph reckons any progress by either of the British teams wouldn’t be a surprise and believes their opponents will be well prepared.
He added: “I talked to some coaches in the competition in the past and people aren’t surprised by the level of the EIHL teams. Maybe in the past, like when Nottingham got out of the group, maybe they snuck up on a few teams there.
“I don’t think anyone will be that surprised and allow an EIHL team to sneak up on them again. I think this year, Belfast have Lulea and Liberec, who played Cardiff not too long ago so already they’ll know what to expect from a UK team.
FreeSports will show all four games live this weekend as the Giants and the Devils make their path in the CHL, with Murph, as ever joined in the commentary box by Paul Adey.
But after a relaxing summer following a hectic season covering the EIHL, CHL, SHL and even NHL, the Canadian can’t wait to be back behind the mic and witnessing the excitement this tournament can bring first hand.
And he insists he’s as excited as the fans for the start of what will be another busy few months for him.
He said: “You can’t beat the CHL. When it comes down to it, most fans are excited for the league season, but I also think that any group in the past, whether Nottingham, Sheffield or Glasgow, when you’re a part of that, the fans are excited about booking the road trips, hosting the European world in your own barn.
“I’m really interested to see how Belfast fare with Liam Reddox on their side, They’ve really had a bit of a change to a championship roster last year.
“It’s Cardiff’s third attempt at it and they know how to do it at this level. They got a couple of wins two years ago and a couple of overtime losses last year which they felt they could have won.
“As far as excitement goes, I can’t wait to get going. It’s been a good summer and having some family time and all that, but it’s time to get back to the rink.”
Catch all the CHL action this weekend on FreeSports:
Thursday 29th August: Belfast Giants vs Bili Tygri Liberec (7.25pm)
Friday 30th August: Cardiff Devils vs Mountfield (7.25pm)
Saturday 31st August: Belfast Giants vs Augsburger Panther (7.25pm)
Sunday 1st September: Cardiff Devils vs Graz 99ers (3.55pm)
FreeSports can be found on: Freeview (Ch. 64), Sky (Ch. 422), Virgin (Ch. 553), Talk Talk TV (Ch. 64), BT TV (Ch. 64) and Sky (Ch. 429 in Republic of Ireland)