Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 27 November 2014

Champions Belfast Giants thirsty for more glory

Giant's fairytale success down to teamwork and dedication

Ice cool: Belfast Giants coach Doug Christiansen takes a soaking from Mike Hoffman as the team celebrates with the Elite League trophy
Ice cool: Belfast Giants coach Doug Christiansen takes a soaking from Mike Hoffman as the team celebrates with the Elite League trophy
Craig Peacock celebrates after the Belfast Giants win the Elite League

Under normal circumstances it would be hard to smile when you’ve just had a bucket full of freezing cold water tipped over you.

When it happens a second time the last thing you would expect is for the victim to laugh almost uncontrollably.

Doug Christiansen couldn’t care if it happens every night if the feeling inside is the same as it was on Friday and Saturday night at the Odyssey Arena.

As the Belfast Giants coach tried to put that feeling into words after his team had hammered the Sheffield Steelers 5-1 in front of 7,022 fans on Friday to clinch the Elite League title he received an impromptu shower from forward Mike Hoffman.

It was the same player at it again on Saturday night as, after beating the Steelers again, this time there was 5,386 people in the building to witness a 5-2 win, Christiansen held aloft the silverware he had worked so hard to bring to Belfast.

The harder you work though the greater the feeling when the reward comes.

Christiansen is totally dedicated to the job — that’s not to say others weren’t, but he is a different personality.

The five men who came before him as Giants coach — Dave Whistle, Rob Stewart, Tony Hand, Ed Courtenay and Steve Thornton — all had wives and families, be it with them in Belfast or, in the case of Hand, in Edinburgh where he tried to spend at least one night a week.

Courtenay’s family stayed in South Carolina, so two or three times a season he would head to the United States for a few days.

Whistle and Courtenay both won league titles too. Whistle’s was in a different era, when Superleague was filled with ex-NHL players, like Giants cult hero Jason Ruff. Courtenay too had a star in former Stanley Cup winner Theo Fleury.

It’s very different these days. The Giants success has been built on a solid foundation of teamwork, with no stars — although the Brit pack of goaltender Stephen Murphy, Robert Dowd (36 goals) and Craig Peacock (26 goals) have been outstanding — and backed up by an astute coach.

Christiansen is a single man and while he is far from being a loner — the exact opposite would be nearer to the truth as he enjoys mixing in any company — he has spent hour after hour in his Belfast apartment working on making the Belfast Giants successful.

Whether it’s watching DVDs of his own team’s games or forthcoming opposition, devising systems to get even more goals out of his forwards or — as he had to do on more than one occasion this season — calling or emailing north America to bring in a new player, downtime is a precious commodity for Christiansen. The fact that he lives within a stone’s throw of the Odyssey also makes it hard to to get away from his job.

Not that he has wanted to. Since being appointed two years ago he has been driven by a desire to restore the Belfast Giants to what he believes is their rightful place at the top of the Elite League.

He’s done that now and all the plaudits that come his way are thoroughly deserved.

Coach of the year? Well he got it for taking the Edinburgh Capitals to a record high of sixth in the Elite League two years ago, so a second success is surely a given.

Christiansen’s decision to sign 11 imports last summer, when only 10 can play on any given night, wasn’t so much a gamble as a masterstroke.

It’s only in the last few weeks that he’s had the luxury of sitting players in the stand with everyone fit and wanting to play as the games got bigger and bigger.

There is no shortage of dedication to the task in the dressing room either. You can’t be any less than 100 per cent committed to the cause if you’re a Belfast Giant.

The players in the Coventry, Hull, Nottingham and Sheffield teams at least get to sleep in their own bed after away games against each other. The same goes for the teams in Scotland.

When you play for the Belfast Giants trips to England and Scotland mean a night in a hotel and — more often than not — two early starts either side of the game.

Getting up at 6am to travel to Scotland for a game, returning straight after the match and not getting to bed until dawn isn’t easy and it doesn’t suit everyone.

When you finish the season as a champion, however, it’s all worth it.

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