Belfast Telegraph

Steve Thornton is out to sidestep a surprise sting

By Stuart McKinley

Steve Thornton's message to his Belfast Giants players ahead of their weekend away double-header is that 'the league title defence starts now.'

And as he approaches the games away to the Hull Stingrays tonight and the Sheffield Steelers tomorrow, Thornton is hoping to be boosted by having a full-strength roster for the first time this season.

The Giants coach is well aware of the magnitude of Belfast v Sheffield games, but he knows only too well that points dropped in places like Hull can be costly, having missed out on the Elite League title by a single point during his previous spell in charge at the Odyssey.

So far the Giants have a 100 per cent record from league games against Dundee and Edinburgh and now the challenge is to maintain that form as they head to England for the first time this season.

"This is the first weekend when we've had two league games, so it's a bit like the league title defence starts now," said Thornton.

"We are up against two teams we haven't seen yet. You never quite know what you are going to get in Hull.

"Sheffield, we know what they are about. They have started well and had a big win against Fife last weekend.

"They have a top line that looks like they have developed a chemistry very quickly and their roster is really deep too."

Thornton was without Cody Brookwell and Mark Garside last weekend, while Giants fans have yet to see the exciting talent of big summer signing Mark McCutcheon, other than a goal-scoring appearance in a pre-season game against the Cardiff Devils.

All three are in line to make returns this evening, but if any slight niggles remain they may be held back for the clash with the Steelers tomorrow.

"You expect Sheffield to be up there every year and they will definitely be in the mix," said Thornton.

"These games are always important. Sheffield have built their team well, with two solid defencemen, team toughness and three lines that look like they can score.

"It's our first Conference game and they are important to win because every time you do it's two points a team that you expect to be challenging us doesn't get.

"The two points in Hull are just as important though as far as we are concerned.

"I still remember losing out on the league by a point when I was here before and it was a bitter pill to swallow.

"That's why we can't take any game lightly and end up looking back with regrets come the end."

Belfast Telegraph

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