The Belfast Giants return home to the SSE Arena on Thursday evening after 32 days, 10 games, 42 goals scored, 16 goals conceded and 9 victories on the road right across Scotland, England and Wales.
Visiting 8 of the other 10 arenas and fighting their way to the TOP of the Elite Ice Hockey League.
This weekend their attentions turn to European competition. Group E of the IIHF Continental Cup for 2018/19 and three sides with very different approaches and abilities in the game.
Beginning on Thursday night with KHL Medvescak Zagreb, a team from the EBEL who finished 6th in their league and were eliminated in the first round of the EBEL playoffs. They qualify for the Continental Cup by virtue of being the highest ranked team in Croatia.
Names on their roster will prove very familiar to Belfast Giants and EIHL fans alike. Names like, former Belfast Giant, Sebastien Sylvestre, John Armstrong once of the Sheffield Steelers. Nottingham “favourite” Kyle Hardy, one time Cardiff Devil David Brine and Yan Suave who shone in the NIC with the Panthers. Therefore Zagreb, possibly, carry the greatest threat to the Giants with a team dripping in EIHL experience.
On Friday night it is the turn of Italian side Ritten Sport who qualified from Group B, which they hosted back in mid-October. 3 wins from 3 over Mac Budapest (featuring former Clan D-man Cameron Burt), Crvena Zvezda Belgrade and Acroni Jesenice rocketed the Italians in to Group E.
A team predominantly made up of Italians, Ritten/Renon qualified for the competition by virtue of winning the IHL – Elite title for the 3rd year in a row and 4th time in 5 years (backstopped last season by Patrick Kileen now at MK). This is the 3rd season in a row Ritten have faced EIHL opposition in the Continental Cup, they were defeated 2-0 by the Sheffield Steelers in the Final Round of last year’s competition and 4-1 by the Nottingham Panthers also in the Final Round of the season before.
Finally, on Saturday, GKS Katowice from Poland. They qualified for the Continental Cup by virtue of finishing runners up in the Polska Hokej Liga, their highest finish since the reorganisation of that league and their 2012 title in Polish 1. Liga, the second tier of Polish Ice Hockey.
Another team whose roster is predominantly made up of players from its home nation, Katowice are a young team finding their way in European competition, yet currently they sit top of the Polska Hokej Liga having started their season strongly including a 12-0 demolition of Kadra PZHL (a bad way for Kadra to start the season, until you see that just 3 weeks ago Katowice beat them 16-1).
This weekend really is an exciting prospect for the Giants, the last time they hosted a round of the Continental Cup, Colin Ryder, Sean Selmser and Colin Ward were the stars and the Giants progressed with 3 wins over Valerenga (3-0), Rouen (8-0) and Linz Black Wings (5-3) to reach the Super Final in Lugano. A season’s adventure that still resonates with the fan base as an early experience of the joy European competition can bring.
Let’s hope that adventure continues this weekend!
Thursday: Belfast Giants v KHL Medvescak Zagreb (CRO), 7pm, Webcast
Friday: Belfast Giants v Ritten Sport (ITA), 7pm, Webcast
Saturday: Belfast Giants v GKS Katowice (POL), 7pm, Webcast
PODCAST: 0181 811 81 81 – There is a great mood as Kyle Baun join the lads on this weeks A View From The Bridge Podcast, Official Podcast of the Belfast Giants, part of Kingdom Of The Giants.
Video: IIHF Continental Cup