Last weekend was a real roller coaster of emotions for the Belfast Giants. From being on the cusp of Continental Cup glory, the Giants suffered heartbreak in the worst way possible: a penalty shootout loss. But there’s always a bounceback around the corner, and this weekend gives Adam Keefe’s men the best chance of erasing that unlucky loss out of their systems. However, it will not be far from easy.
Going into the weekend’s games, the Giants trail two-time EIHL champions Cardiff by five points with a game in hand. However, this weekend’s opponents are none other than Cardiff and should the Giants come out of these games with at least a three point haul then this would give them an excellent chance of upsetting the Cardiff bid to become the first ever EIHL side to record a three-peat. It’s like climbing Everest but every mountain can be scaled and this is one that Keefe’s men can achieve but they do need to get a set of results which would put them back within striking distance.
Some might ask therefore, are Cardiff beatable on home ice?
The answer is of course, any team can be beat anyone wherever the game is being played. You just have to look back to last weekend don’t you? Would you seriously have thought, in your heart of hearts, that Dundee would record back to back wins against the Steelers especially when you saw Omar Pacha’s previous record against the said opposition? Many people would have laughed in your face. Giants have had the beating of the Devils in the Viola Arena, as it is now known as for commercial reasons, many a time in recent times. Look back to the 2018 Challenge Cup Final for example, not many people outside Northern Ireland would have fancied the Giants to win that. However, they only went and did it didn’t they?
Both teams have plenty of match winners on their side, and are stacked offensively as good as the other. For Cardiff’s Joey Martin, the Giants give you Blair Riley: Cardiff deal Charles Linglet, the Giants will look to the “Belfast Datsyuk” himself: Chris Higgins. Defensively both are solid too, so I really think that the games could be decided on a combination of special teams and more importantly; goaltending. Ben Bowns has proved over the last few years that he is the best British netminder in the country and is the undisputed number GB one. However, Giants brought in former Dallas Stars draft pick Tyler Beskorowany in the summer and what a signing he has proved to be for Adam Keefe. “Besko” has been miserly it has to be said, that miserly that even Ebenezer Scrooge would be proud, and has a GAA of less than two goals a game.
It also pits the two best coaches in the country against each other. Both have achieved so much in their short coaching careers and keep finding ways to be one step ahead of their rivals. They are able to get the best out of their players and players seem to be happy to be part of their respective team jigsaws. Find me a coach in the UK who can surpass either Lord or Keefe at the moment, they are one and two for a reason. When the chips seem to be down, these guys can turn a game on its proverbial head with a few choice words here and there. They are the coaching benchmarks for the chasing pack.
All in all, this weekend could be the definitive weekend this season and we’re only in mid-January. Should the Devils either split the games with one regulation win each or gain more points than the Giants then they’ll become red hot favourites to make the historic threepeat. However, should the Giants take more points then they still have that chance. Anything can happen in these games, we are potentially set for a couple of absolute barnburners.
I simply can’t wait.