A Giant step for debutant goaltender Carsen Chubak
Steve Thornton is urging his Belfast Giants players to take the pressure off debutant goaltender Carsen Chubak as he prepares for a baptism of fire.
The 25-year-old, who has less than 20 professional games under his belt, will be thrown in at the deep end in two huge games this weekend as the Giants face two of their main title rivals in the space of 24 hours.
Chubak will make his bow against the Sheffield Steelers in Yorkshire this evening and things won't get any easier, with the Nottingham Panthers coming to the Odyssey Arena tomorrow afternoon.
And with regular goalie Stephen Murphy likely to be out for a long spell Chubak, who comes with a record of success at college level in north America, will also be between the pipes when the Giants head to France next weekend for the Continental Cup semi-final tournament.
"We have maybe played a little lose at times this season when Stephen Murphy has been on goal because we know that he can make the big saves that can win us games," said Thornton.
"We can't do that with a new goalie coming in against two very good teams who will put pressure on him.
"We need to be good at making the key decisions in these two games and make it easier for him.
"It would be unfair to be relying on him like we do with Stephen Murphy when he's just new into the team so we need to get away from playing a high-risk game and become low risk."
Thornton was moved to draft Chubak in as emergency cover with a number of big games approaching in the next few weeks.
He does, however, still have faith in back-up goalie Andrew Dickson, who performed very well in both of last weekend's game against the Cardiff Devils, after Murphy was injured just seconds into the first of those.
A reliable deputy, it will be back to his normal duties of opening the door on the bench for Dickson tonight, but it might not be a permanent role.
"Andrew Dickson did a great job against Cardiff and really held the fort for us," said Thornton.
"He has improved dramatically since I was here before and has worked hard to get where he is now.
"There is a difference between Andrew Dickson and Stephen Murphy - Stephen is probably the most important player in the whole league - but it is great to have a guy that gives you solid cover and Cardiff is the toughest place in the league to play for a goalie."
Tonight's game against the Steelers is the Giants' seventh in a 16-match run that sees them play 13 times against opposition from their own Erhardt Conference.
That means that every point will have to be earned, but the other side of the coin is that every one that is picked up is one that the opponents don't get.
"These are four-point games this weekend and they are games that we've got to win," said Thornton. There are no easy games at all in this league. What has been amazing is how close the teams are. I don't know how many times this season I have said 'that's the best team we've played this season'.
"I know that it's been a few times and that's a sign of how tough it is going to be to win this league and we have to be consistent."
The Giants have only played Sheffield and Nottingham once each this season, losing away games to both of them.
As he prepares for his own European adventure next weekend, Thornton believes the Panthers' experience on the continent in the early part of the season is working to their advantage.
"Nottingham play tight and you can see that they are all on the same page," said Thornton.
"They have really benefited from being together a month early and having high-tempo games in the Champions League."
And Thornton expects his own players to be focused on the job in hand this weekend, rather than having any thoughts about what is coming up immediately after.
"The trip to France next weekend isn't even on our radar because of the magnitude of the games that we have this weekend," added Thornton.