Stena Line Belfast Giants Head Coach Adam Keefe spoke of his pride in the team and the fans after his side topped their semi-final group to advance to the Super Final in January.
The Giants accomplished their goal in style, clinching first place after wins over the Croatian and Italian champions.
Over 15,000 fans packed into the SSE Arena for the Continental Cup semi-final and Saturday night’s electric atmosphere helped secure the Giants place in their second ever European final, despite defeat, where they take on GKS Katowice again, Arlan Kokshetau of Kazakstan as well as Belarus’ HK Gomel.
Although the tournament ended with a 4-2 defeat to Katowice, Keefe was pleased with his players who had just finished their eighth game inside 16 days with the defeat their first in 11 games.
“We got there - that’s the message,” said Keefe, “We certainly wanted to win on Saturday and end a successful tournament in Belfast on a high.
“It wasn’t to be - Katowice’s special teams were very good and they got the win because of them. Credit to them - they deserved to advance to the Super Final along with ourselves. Though we’ll look forward to getting another crack at them in a few months time.”
The semi-final group was one of the highest ever attended with over 5,500 fans creating a special atmosphere at The SSE Arena on Saturday night for the Giants clash with Katowice.
“The fans gave us a lift - being on the bench and experiencing that atmosphere was something special,” added Keefe. “I know our fans have a great reputation of travelling well to away games, though being at home for European games gave the city of Belfast the chance to come out and support the team and they made it a spectacular event. Our home support was the difference in seeing us advance to the Super Final.”
The Giants qualified by winning all three semi-final games in Belfast against Valerenga (Norway), Dragons de Rouen (France) and EHC Black Wings Linz (Austria).
The Super Final took place in Milan, Italy and Lugano, Switzerland where the Giants faced some of the best of European hockey, hosts HC Lugano, HC Davos and HC Slovan Bratislava.
On the ice on Saturday, Tyler Beskorowany started in the Giants’ net with Colin Shields, Jonathan Ferland, Matt Towe, Andrew Dickson and Guillaume Gelinas missing for the Giants.
At 9:50 the deadlock was broken when Josh Roach unleashed a fierce wrist shot into the roof of the Katowice net, assisted by Dustin Johner.
The Giants came out of the blocks firing in the middle period and at 20:31 they had their reward. David Rutherford and Blair Riley combined to feed the puck to Darcy Murphy whose awesome finish doubled the hosts lead.
However Katowice pulled one back midway through the game and at 32:12, Katowice had their deserved equaliser. Jesse Rohtla finished off a nice move at the back post from a Patryk Wronka pass.
The visitors continued their rich vein of form in the final period, taking the lead for the first time at 44:29 when Niko Tuhkanen bundled the puck home.
Janne Laakkonen capped an impressive performance by the Polish side, scoring an empty net goal to seal the win at 59:09.
All information related to the 2019 Super Final will be announced by the International Ice-Hockey Federation in the coming weeks. January’s Super Final will be the Giants second ever appearance in the European showpiece event after qualifying for the eight team version in the 2002/03 season.