Belfast Giants set to surge clear of big rivals
COLIN Shields has admitted that he never thought the Belfast Giants post-Christmas double-header against Braehead Clan would have so much importance attached to it.
Shields, however, sees the fact that the top two teams in the Elite League will do battle twice in the space of 24 hours as the perfect opportunity for the Giants to take their lead at the top of the table into double figures.
While Braehead's form may have shocked some, the Glasgow-born forward isn't surprised to see his hometown team riding high.
The Giants are currently seven points ahead in the standings, but Shields is warning that the Giants can't afford to drop points at this time of year after seeing that dent their title hopes in the past.
"Having the top two face-off in two games at the halfway stage of the season is huge," said Shields, ahead of tonight's clash at the Odyssey Arena, before both teams catch the ferry to Glasgow and face-off again tomorrow (both 7.00pm).
"I wouldn't have expected a cross-conference game to be so important, but the way the league is this year a lot of things are changing.
"You have Braehead in second and Dundee in third, which is good for the league and every game is important – particularly at this time of the year.
"We have a busy schedule at this time of the year and it can make or break your season – we can't afford to falter. We have faltered at this stage of the season before and it ended up costing us at the end of the season.
"We just have to put our game plan in place and get the job done, but Braehead have a good team and they won't be easy."
The Giants have won all four of their home games since they returned to the Odyssey after spending almost all of November on the road.
And that, coupled with impressive away form, has Shields hungry for two wins against the Clan, rather than settling for a share of the points over the next two days.
"The only way we would be interested in a split is if we lose the first game – but we won't be thinking like that," said Shields.
"We want maximum points from these games.
"We approach every game wanting to win it and with the results we have been getting and the confidence that we have taken from that we now expect to be winning every time.
"We have a really consistent scoring line up. At the start of the season Adam Keefe was hot, now my line is scoring goals and Evan Cheverie's line has been contributing regularly too.
"When you are relying on one player scoring most of your goals it becomes a problem if he dries up, but we have so many guys all scoring goals.
"We also have a really good physical presence that guys like Adam Keefe and Darryl Lloyd give us."
And Shields reserved special praise for his fellow Scotsman Stephen Murphy's performances this season.
"We have an excellent goaltender in Stephen Murphy," said Shields. "He has been playing so well for us this season and if we want to win the league then our goaltending is key."