Belfast Giants captain Blair Riley has gone from zero to hero in the space of a few short weeks and he will be a key figure in this weekend’s Elite League triple-header in Scotland.
No longer are the teams from north of the English border the whipping boys following the demise of perennial strugglers Edinburgh Capitals, who dropped out last season.
Indeed tonight’s opponents, Fife Flyers, are sitting at the top of the standings, two points ahead of Riley’s men.
The 32-year-old forward made an inauspicious start to the season after missing the build up with concussion and some fans were even questioning his leadership qualities.
But, after a goal drought in September, he got back in the groove last month when he scored six times in 11 matches.
Riley’s rich vein of form has been mirrored by that of his team, who go on to face Glasgow Clan and Dundee Stars on successive days after tonight’s game in Kirkcaldy.
Going into the Fife match, the Giants can boast 10 wins from their last 12 outings after a poor start in which they lost three out of four, including a 4-2 defeat to the Flyers.
“After the concussion, it took some time for me to get my confidence back and, obviously, you can’t take any chances with an injury like that,” Riley explained.
“Mentally, it was draining and not a lot of fun but the brain is obviously the most important part of your body, so it was important to get fully rested and recovered.
“While I wasn’t scoring goals, I felt I was trying to make a contribution in other ways but I’m now feeling completely better.”
Riley believes the Giants have turned the corner and can approach the weekend games with a degree of confidence on the back of overtime wins against Manchester Storm and Nottingham Panthers.
Sunday’s win was achieved in spectacular fashion after the team had trailed 2-0 going into the final period against one of the title favourites, as the Giants made it two from three against the Panthers, following an opening 6-3 defeat in Belfast.
“Coming back in that manner was a stunning achievement in the circumstances as we were missing several players through injury and had a short bench,” Riley added.
“It’s been tough with a run 16 road games in a row and the guys do get tired with the result that sometimes you’re kind of working on adrenaline but it was a great response on Sunday.
“But none of the teams in this league has any sympathy nor would we expect any and we’ll just have to find a way to win again this weekend in what undoubtedly will be three more tough games.”