The Belfast Giants and Cardiff Devils will put their Elite League title aspirations to one side tonight when they meet in the first leg of the Challenge Cup quarter-final at the Odyssey Arena.
Both teams had sensational holiday periods with the Giants going 7-1 in their eight games and the Devils are currently riding a seven-game winning streak.
They are the two in-form sides in the league so this promises to be an exciting last eight clash that concludes next Wednesday with the second leg in the Welsh capital.
“We’ve seen a lot of Cardiff this season, we played them a couple of times in pre-season and have already faced them six times in the league and they are as good as any team in the league right now,” explained Giants head coach Steve Thornton.
“Their roster is deep, they have three very solid lines, a good core of British players and a lot of toughness so we know what to expect from them.
“There’s a little bit of a rivalry building up between the two teams and its good hockey.”
The Giants have only ever won the Challenge Cup once in their history and that was back in 2009 and was one of the three trophies Thornton clinched in his two-year tenure as coach.
He added, “It’s a six-period play-off game and we know how hard it is to win in Cardiff so when trophies are on the line, as a player you never know when you’re going to win your next one and I’ve played with guys who were never able to win anything and you never forget lifting a trophy with your team mates, those are memories you never loose.
“That has to be the motivation, it doesn’t matter what the trophy is, you put in the same effort for a common goal.”
Since the Giants success in the competition, the trophy has been won five years in a row by the Nottingham Panthers and on three occasions the Giants have been runners-up including last season when they blew a three-goal first leg lead and ended up losing on penalty shots.
They also lost twice to the Devils in the league a month ago so there is plenty of motivation in the Giants locker room.
Forward Craig Peacock commented, “They’re playing really well and they gave us a little bit of a lesson the last time we faced them in Cardiff when they beat us twice over a weekend so we’ll be looking for revenge and especially with the way the Challenge Cup ended last season, it left a very bitter taste in everyone’s mouth so we’ll be ready for the challenge.
“Any time you can win a championship it’s great and looks good for the organisation so we’ll want to be in the mix for all three trophies so we’ll be looking to give ourselves a good lead at home.”