Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Giants close in on banishing the pain of last year's failure

By Stuart McKinley

FOR weeks now it has been a case of when the Belfast Giants would win the Elite League title rather than if they would be champions.

Any doubt that they would take the crown has been dispelled and the confirmation of such is imminent.

Indeed, if the Giants win twice in their double header away to the Nottingham Panthers and Braehead Clan slip up in either one of their games at Fife or Coventry, the league will be over.

And that will see unfinished business cleared up for all concerned.

Every single one of the 2013-14 Giants has had a point to prove for some reason – and boy have they proved it.

Team captain Adam Keefe, Jeff Mason, Mark Garside, Darryl Lloyd, Kevin Saurette, Colin Shields, David Phillips, Robby Sandrock, Stephen Murphy and Gareth Roberts all returned from last season with the memories of what happened then still fresh in their minds.

They believed that they were the best team in the league a year ago, but finished second to the Nottingham Panthers. Not winning it hurt – a lot – and what made it worse was that every player knew exactly why they didn't claim the title.

The ownership issue, which became public exactly 12 months ago this weekend, clearly affected them long before anyone knew who Christopher Knight was.

His takeover fell apart when it emerged that Knight's name was on a sex offenders register in the USA, prompting the Odyssey Trust to take over the running of the team.

Before that Knight had been a regular at training and matches. On occasion he was even in the dressing room during period breaks, conducting his own team-talk before former coach Doug Christiansen could speak to his players.

That messed with their minds and costly defeats during December and January to Fife, Sheffield and Dundee can be put down to players being distracted.

This season there has been nothing to take their eyes from the prize.

For coach Paul Adey too, a surprise appointment when former crowd favourites Dave Whistle, Steve Thornton and Dave Matsos expressed an interest in the job, there has been something to prove.

He wanted a chance to come back to the Elite League and show that he isn't a one-dimensional coach.

The ownership of the Nottingham Panthers dictated the style of hockey they wanted him to play while he was in charge. Belfast Giants fans remember exactly what that meant after Paxton Schulte was attacked by Barry Nieckar and bad blood existed between the teams for the entire 2002-03 season and beyond.

Adey has been given much more of a say in building the Belfast Giants team and has applied his own stamp.

His players have performed with style, guile and panache after being given freedom by the coach and the goals have flowed – 186 of them in 45 games.

Jeffrey Szwez has scored 28 of those. He returned to Belfast after winning the Play-offs with the Giants in 2010, but wanted more.

The north-American players know the league title is the main prize in the UK and both he and Evan Cheverie – who was also here in 2010 – came back wanting to win the biggy.

Adey tempted Calvin Elfring and Dustin Whitecotton away from the much more financially lucrative German league.

Success has been hard to come by in both of their careers, they wanted more to show for their efforts than a bank balance and knew that Belfast was the place to come to challenge for trophies.

They are about to get their wish.

Kevin Phillips, Cody Brookwell and Chris Higgins hadn't enjoyed much success in their careers either and when Craig Peacock's move to Denmark didn't work out he made the 'no brainer' decision to come back to Belfast, knowing that he could be a winner here again.

They are all about to get what they came for when that that unfinished business is finally taken care of.

Belfast Telegraph

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