The Belfast Giants begin the defence of their Elite League title with a tough doubleheader on the road against the Nottingham Panthers tonight and tomorrow.
There’s a new look structure to the season, one that has divided opinion amongst fans and one that has positive and negative aspects to it.
There are now two conferences with the Giants joining Nottingham, Sheffield, Coventry and Cardiff in the Erhardt conference with Braehead, Dundee, Hull, Fife and Edinburgh in the Gardiner conference.
The idea is more games against your biggest rivals and that should produce better hockey.
Where the problem comes is that the team that gains the most points from either conference will be crowned champions and while the Erhardt conference promises to be exciting, teams have the ability to take points of each other and that could allow a club like Braehead or Hull to dominate the Gardiner conference and run away with the title. Only time will tell.
This marks the first two league games for the Giants, while the Panthers have one win under their belts, a 5-1 victory over the Dundee Stars. The Giants are coming off a tough loss in Challenge Cup action to the Braehead Clan and will be looking to bounce back against a dangerous Panthers squad that will be strengthened by former Giant Brandon Benedict who is expected to be in Nottingham for the games against his old team. It might only be September, but this weekend will have huge implications for either teams title hopes and both coaches and all the players will understand the significance of these two games.
“This is as big as any weekend we will have all season,” said Giants Head Coach Doug Christiansen, “it is a tough place to start the league but we know that it doesn’t matter if it’s September or March, these points are vital for either team.”
He continued: “I am happy with the week of training we have had, the guys I need to lead the charge are getting better each day and that gelling process that we keep talking about is coming together nicely. I expect to see a very different team this weekend than the team that faced Braehead last Saturday.”
Christiansen is coming off the most successful league campaign in Elite League history and with that success came a long list of departing players who caught the eyes of teams throughout Europe. Still the Giants Coach expects to have another team that can chase silverware this season.
“The price of success is players will move on, especially after having career years for the Giants last season.
“We have another group of talented players that want to win and are heading into this year’s league as defending Champions.”