Matt Nickerson move will toughen up Belfast Giants, says Adam Keefe
Steve Thornton's off-season recruitment drive has already found favour with captain Adam Keefe, because it means that he won't have to fight one of the Elite League's biggest tough guys for the foreseeable future.
The capture of 6ft 4 defenceman Matt Nickerson has sent a message to the rest of the league that the Belfast Giants won't be a team to mess with next season and having fought the former NHL draft pick two seasons ago Keefe is glad that his former opponent is now a team-mate.
"You can tell by his size that Nickerson's not a fun guy to fight," said Keefe.
"He will hold everyone else on the ice accountable and I don't think there are too many guys out there who will want to fight him.
"I can tell everyone from first-hand experience how tough a guy he is and how hard he hits.
"It's definitely good for me and for the team that he is on our side now."
It's not just Nickerson's toughness that makes him a feared opponent though. Labelling him as simply a tough guy means overlooking his defensive qualities.
Having a six-foot plus and almost 17 stone barrier in front of goaltender Stephen Murphy will make the Giants even harder to score against than they already are when the GB number one is fit.
"It is so hard to play against Nickerson because he makes it so tough to get to the net and when you do he is good and taking the rebounds and the second chances away," added Keefe.
"He is a solid stay-at-home defenceman who will give Stephen Murphy so much protection.
"Other teams will also realise that when he's on the ice they can't play right on the edge and expect to get away with it.
"They will have to be aware that he's around and he will keep them honest, which will help our team because I can't be on the ice all the time."
Thornton's recruitment process goes along the lines of ensuring he brings back the players he wants from last season's team, then looking at others around the league who he believes can make an impact in Belfast before extending his search further afield.
And Keefe is in favour of getting the best from around the league to come to Belfast, which is what Thornton has done in bringing Nickerson, Jonathan Boxill and returning ex-Giant Chris Higgins.
"When you sign guys you don't know how long it will take them to adapt to the UK style, so it's good to get guys who know what it's about," said Keefe.