CONTINENTAL CUP MAY HAVE COME AT THE WRONG TIME FOR GIANTS
We’re at the time of year when the cream really starts to rise at the top and with Belfast Giants going off on another European adventure, the timing of it may just be a little unfortunate for them.
A few more ‘L’s have crept into that column recently which has allowed Cardiff Devils to get themselves back on top of the table and you have to wonder if coach Adam Keefe is maybe secretly wishing it was any other time but now.
He’ll build it up this week and rightfully so as the Giants look to take the Continental Cup crown, emulating what the Nottingham Panthers did two seasons ago along with the carrot of a place in the Champions Hockey League – something they’ve never done so far.
But with the Devils now hitting their stride and the possibility of them going five points clear by the time Belfast return to domestic action in two weeks time, the pressure will be on them to claw themselves back.
Of course, their return to Elite League action so happens to be not one, but two mammoth clashes with Andrew Lord’s men in Wales, which arguably could be bigger than their Continental Cup shift next week, in terms of what it could mean for their season.
In an ideal world, having something of a points cushion while sitting at the top of the table would be the most preferred situation to be in, but now the real credentials of Belfast Giants will be tested.
Of course, they’ve come off those two big wins over Sheffield Steelers so confidence is certainly not an issue and will go in this week in great shape as they eye up European success.
In terms of the league, there’s no reason to doubt them because they have been excellent for most of the season, but when we’ve seen Cardiff Devils dust themselves down and rack up eight wins from their last nine after some disappointing results earlier on, the title race really is on.
Keefe, being the canny operator he is, would have expected that. He’s often praised Cardiff for their character and you don’t win two league titles on the spin in two of arguably the most competitive seasons for nothing.
Regardless, Giants will welcome Katowice, Gomel and Kokshetau next week and face the challenge head on, putting domestic matters aside. That’s the sort of team they are. They roll their sleeves up and get the job done.
The question is whether it’s a distraction they need right now when they’re going for something perhaps bigger. Nevertheless, let’s hope they do themselves and the Elite League proud and bring the Continental Cup back to these shores for the second time in three years.
PS Well done to Colin Shields on becoming the all-time appearance maker for the Giants at the weekend.
FEELGOOD FACTOR BACK IN GLASGOW
To say last season was disappointing is something of an understatement when you talk to anyone at Glasgow Clan, but the Purple Army have smiles on their faces again.
Pete Russell’s announcement as replacement for John Tripp was surprisingly underwhelming, considering his success with the Great Britain national team, further proved when they were promoted to top level weeks later.
Now the doubters are eating their words as Clan have the top four in sight with a series of victories that has been a product of the team finding the right formula, not to mention a variety of players finding the net.
Of course, I’m aware I’m writing this after they suffered a penalty shots to Coventry Blaze, but the overall picture of where they are is a much more positive one than it’s been for quite some time.
It’s a far cry from the end of last campaign when they meekly slipped out of the play-offs in the final regular season weekend and after a month where they’ve beaten the top teams, reached the last four of the Challenge Cup, defeated Fife Flyers twice in convincing fashion and scored nine past Dundee, the mood is good.
Russell is enjoying his latest role and you just need to see the smile on his face in recent interviews to know this.
With that semi final against Belfast Giants coming up, they will be underdogs, but they’re playing with a confidence Clan fans haven’t seen in some time.
There could be exciting times ahead in the West of Scotland.
FIRST DAY STARTS EXCITING YEAR OF NATIONAL TEAM ACTION
With the feelgood factor still lingering around the national team after the exertions of the senior men’s team last year, this year’s teams are starting out for their piece of glory.
Cheryl Smith’s Women’s Under 18’s side began their quest for a gold medal in Dumfries yesterday and although they suffered a loss to Poland, it’s early days in this group.
With the home support behind them, they can certainly make the step up and hope it can rub off on the Under 20’s, who head to Estonia later this week for their campaign.
It’s all coming thick and fast and the success of Pete Russell’s team has perhaps brought more focus to the national team so we wish them all well in what’s sure to be an exciting few months.