Mature heads give Belfast Giants an edge: Elfring
Calvin Elfring has pointed to the maturity in the Belfast Giants team as being their biggest advantage in the battle for the Elite League title.
The fact that nine members of Paul Adey's team are either 32 or over raised eyebrows at the start of the season when other coaches in the league were going for younger players.
Elfring is the elder statesman of the team at 37-years-old and as the Giants approach their third game in four nights – also the third of five-match run stretching over nine nights – against the Hull Stingrays at the Odyssey Arena tonight (7pm) he has no concerns that the physical demands of the post-Christmas schedule will take their toll on the players.
The Giants lead the way with a nine-point advantage over Braehead Clan after beating the Glasgow based outfit 4-1 on Friday night in Belfast before producing a marvellous comeback victory in Scotland on Saturday.
Trailing 5-4 going into the third period, goals from Kevin Saurette and Jeffrey Szwez gave the Giants a seventh successive victory.
"With age you get experience," said Elfring.
"I have played pro hockey for 16 years and been through peaks and valleys and with experience it helps you get through those times, so I think it's a good thing to have an older team."
If anything it has been the older players who have produced the best form, particularly in recent games. Elfring himself is proving to be one of the signings of the season both for his defensive quality as well as his ability to create and score goals at the other end.
Szwez is the team's leading goalscorer with 16, Saurette is only one behind and Dustin Whitecotton and Colin Shields are both in double figures.
Just behind them are Elfring on nine and Evan Cheverie with eight goals – although that would have been nine had one of the goals on Friday night not been given to Whitecotton after originally being credited to Cheverie.
Elfring sees that spread of goals as well as the strength of his defensive qualities as the big reason why the Giants have built a substantial lead at the top – with age not being a barrier at all.
"I think we have an advantage over most teams in that we have six defencemen who we can play," he said.
"As long as we can stay healthy through this period I don't think we will have a problem because we are all in good shape.
"We have three good lines who can play against anybody too. It's not like we are doubling-shifting our top line or second line.
"We play three lines and that keeps you fresh for the next game.
"When you are leading the league that helps keeps you fresh too and you want to play all the time.
With the Nottingham Panthers coming to the Odyssey on Thursday night followed by the Dundee Stars on Friday, all Elfring is interested in is the chance to increase the lead.
"We want to keep focused on building that lead because it can turn around so quickly," he said.
"People have seen before and I have been part of it in the past too, you're up and then you go on a bad stretch and the lead can disappear in a hurry."
The Giants will look to win at home for the sixth game in-a-row tonight after spending almost all of November away from the Odyssey, winning five of their seven league games in that period.
"We wanted to go on the road and do well and we did. I think we have an advantage here, its a great arena, we have great fans and it's nice to go on a bit of a winning streak at home," said Elfring.