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Belfast Giants have World vision as Derrick Walser is named boss

By Stuart McKinley

Published 31/07/2015

New face: Derrick Walser has joined Giants as player-coach
New face: Derrick Walser has joined Giants as player-coach

The Belfast Giants' recruitment of Derrick Walser as their new Head Coach could lead to some of the top ice hockey players in the world coming to Northern Ireland.

The appointment of Walser will see Steve Thornton step back from his day-to-day involvement with the team to undertake other duties in his capacity as Director of Hockey Operations. And part of that will involve plans to bring a World Championship tournament to the Odyssey Arena, possibly as soon as 2017.

Great Britain currently compete in Division One, which is outside of the top tier of nations, and while the main World Championship venues are already decided up to 2020, the tournaments below that are allocated on a year-to-year basis, with only next year's competition in Zagreb, Croatia, decided at this stage, meaning Belfast could be in the running after that.

"Bringing in Derrick Walser as Head Coach will allow me to focus on the bigger picture without letting any balls drop," said Thornton. "There has been talk about a second ice pad and a World Championship and those are things that we would like to do.

"We don't want to make any promises that we can't keep, but I will be drawing up a business plan to see if bringing a World Championship here is viable for us."

With Thornton no longer directly involved in the on-ice operations, he has built a strong team of Giants fan-favourites to work alongside Walser, who is taking his first steps into coaching.

The 37-year-old, who iced 91 times in the NHL for the Colombus Blue Jackets, will be a player-coach and Rob Stewart, who has been assistant to Doug Christiansen, Paul Adey and Thornton, will take on greater responsibility as bench coach.

Team captain Adam Keefe will also be given more responsibility in a new role as player-assistant coach.

Returning to Belfast as part of the new off-ice team is Brandon Benedict - who played under Thornton in his first spell as Giants coach, winning the Play-off title in 2010 before spending four years in Nottingham - who comes in as assistant coach and he will also work alongside Thornton, as well as providing cover should injuries strike again.

"I wanted to put people around Derrick who can benefit both him and the club and I believe that I have done that," said Thornton. "Rob has been great alongside me, Adam Keefe has already had a lot of responsibility as captain and this is a natural progression for him.

"It's the same with Brandon Benedict and he will be good in a lot of roles. He will be prepared to play if we have injuries - which was a big problem for us last season."

Walser, who also played for two seasons with Eisbaren Berlin before moving to the top league in Switzerland, where he spent the last four years, is exactly the kind of player that Thornton wanted to bring to Belfast and having him as coach is the perfect fit.

"Derrick has been preparing to take this step and he is ready for it at this stage of his career," said Thornton.

"I think that we are getting someone who can still contribute on the ice and he can lead off the ice as well.

"I don’t think that we would have been able to get him without being able to offer him the coaching role as well, so it's a good situation for everyone."

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