By Thomas Kinchington
THE SEASON THAT WAS
If you’d come to me at the start of the season and tell me that Belfast Giants would come away with three out of the four competitions available, I would never have believed it. I still can’t.
We went in with hope, knowing we were capable of doing something. This really was something else. For celebrations, I don’t think I’ve properly recovered.
We had a superb goalie in Tyler Beskorowany, we had great players in Blair Riley, Kendall McFaull, Darcy Murphy, Patrick Dwyer and latterly, the excellent Jordan Smotherman.
We almost had the play-offs to complete what would have been a wonderful Grand Slam. In the end, you can’t win them all and this team under Adam Keefe really took massive strides last season.
The final day is something I’ll never forget and the nerves as we waited and hoped that Coventry Blaze would beat Cardiff Devils and hand us the title were unbearable. So imagine the relief and joy when news filtered through they had.
If I never see a season like that again, I don’t know and while I was bitterly disappointed to lose the play-off final to Cardiff, it couldn’t take anything away from an amazing time and I hope this is just the start.
Unlike Cardiff, Belfast have had to start again with a team for the new season with a multitude of players moving on, either through retirement or moving on to pastures new.
Colin Shields retiring was the start of the changes and he’ll be a big miss for the Giants, after his years of service to the organisation so it was sad to see him go certainly.
Losing key players like Beskorowany and Darcy Murphy was always likely, given the seasons they had, but seeing Blair Riley go to the Devils is one that hurts.
However we move on and Keefer has done well with his recruitment and looking at the players he’s brought in, it’s very possible we’ve managed to get stronger.
Shane Owen in goal could be a shrewd move from our coach after doing so well at Fife, while adding Ben Lake and Ciaran Long, who enjoyed good seasons with Coventry Blaze and Manchester Storm respectively could also be great moves too.
Personally, I think Matt Pelech and Brian Ward could be two to watch as we get ready to start the domestic season. If they take the form they’ve showed in the CHL, we’ll be tough to beat.
Bringing in a player like Liam Reddox is also a coup for Belfast Giants and adding a player like him can only help the league in the long term and I believe he can be a real asset to the Giants team.
Bringing 12 players in and seeing 11 leave from the championship team is a big turnaround, but there’s plenty of people excited by the look of this team and I’m definitely one of them.
We’ve dipped our toe into the Champions Hockey League and we absolutely love it so far, with that win over Liberec giving us an early highlight for the season.
We’d love to get out of the group, but with two really tough games against Lulea to come, I don’t really see it, but just the experience of it should stand us in good stead for the season to come.
It goes without saying we want to repeat winning the league title again and I think we’re going to be tussling it out with Cardiff again. Whether my nerves can take it again is another issue, but we’ll deal with that if it happens.
You always look to improve on the season before and I suppose wanting a Grand Slam is about the only thing you can look for to better last year. To be honest, I’d be happy with the title again, if it gives us another crack at the CHL.
Maybe that’s playing down our expectations a little, but to me, the league is the biggest prize and winning that should be the priority and the minimum expectation and battling Cardiff again for it is an exciting prospect.
Bring it on!
MY FIRST LINE
I had to really take my time over this, so I would go with Patrick Mullen and Matt Pelech at the blue line as they could be a real partnership to contend with.
In the offensive areas, I’d have Ben Lake through the centre, with Liam Reddox down the left side. On the other wing, I’m stuck between Jordan Smotherman and Curtis Hamilton so it would need to be either of those two for me.