Belfast Giants can be Europe’s top team, says coach
The Steelers, Panthers and Devils couldn't get the better of the Belfast Giants last season.
And they didn't get burned by the Blaze on the way to lifting the Elite League title.
Now on a different stage Doug Christiansen and his players are about to clash with a whole new set of rivals.
A group of Dutch eaters and some cannibals from Germany are out to get them as the Giants aim for European glory — not to mention a Romanian club that has tasted success against foreign opposition this season.
Csikszereda won their first round group to claim a place alongside the Giants, Eaters of Geleen and the Landshut Cannibals, with the town 30 minutes away from Munich hosting the second round competition.
Winning the league last season has propelled the Giants into the Continental Cup.
Some like to brand it as ice hockey's equivalent to the Champions League, but given that the really big clubs don't take part it's more of a hybrid between that and the Europa League.
Whichever way you look at it won't devalue the competition in the eyes of the Giants, and Christiansen isn't sending his team into battle just to make up the numbers.
He is aware of the history of the Giants in this competition, when they finished sixth in Europe a decade ago.
He doesn't just want to emulate that success — he wants to better it. And in the eyes of the man from Milwaukee the best way to do that is by winning it.
“I want to win every competition that we enter and I built the team at the start of the season with the goal of doing that — including the Continental Cup,” said Christiansen.
“We want to see how far we can go and I have every expectation that we can go on to the next stage in Italy next month.
“We have two (domestic) games on the weekend that is scheduled for and I hope that we have a fixture headache when we get back to Belfast on Monday.
“We're focused very much on our first game on Friday night against Geleen and that will dictate the rest of the weekend for us.
“If we win then we will go into Saturday against Landshut with confidence and knowing that a win would pretty much take us through.
“Losing on Friday would change everything, but we have to be prepared for changing circumstances throughout the weekend.
“There are so many variables and that applies to our team, our opponents and the referees.”
Around 100 Giants fans will make the trip. They, as much as the players, will have to up their game. The Geleen supporters are known as the loudest in the Netherlands, while German fans are loud full stop.
On the ice as well, the challenge is increased, with the European teams having bigger squads, which allows them to roll with four lines rather than the Giants' three.
“The extra line doesn't worry me because I think that we have as much depth, if not more, than Geleen,” said Christiansen.
“Our imports are as good as theirs and while the fourth line means their players get more rest during the game, our guys are used to playing a large number of minutes, so I am confident that won't be a factor and we won't use it as an excuse.
“The hardest part will be playing in the evening game on Saturday and then the early match on Sunday, but we'll worry about that on Saturday night.
“The one thing we can't prepare for is the refereeing,” he said.
“A hit that is legal in our league might not be in Europe where the game isn't as physical.”