Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 24 September 2014

Three wins in row the target as Belfast Giants aim for the top

Colin Shields has scored vital goals for the Giants

Doug Christiansen is determined to make next Saturday night’s Nottingham Panthers v Belfast Giants clash a battle for top spot in the Elite League table.

And the only way the Giants can make what is already poised to be a huge game even bigger is to win all three games before they head to the National Ice Centre.

With six points to make up on Panthers the Giants must win the two games in hand they have over the current leaders in order to apply the maximum pressure on their rivals.

Those games will be played within the next six days, with the Dundee Stars, Coventry Blaze and Fife Flyers arriving at the Odyssey before the big one in Nottingham next weekend.

As far as coach Christiansen is concerned all three matches are must-win in order to keep the heat on the Panthers and keep the title race bubbling with just over two months of the season to go.

“We have three big games to play over the next week and there is a big incentive to win them,” said Christiansen, ahead of tonight’s clash with Dundee.

“If we are successful we then go to Nottingham next Saturday playing for first place in the league.

“If someone had told us back in August that we’d be playing a game in January and we’d go into first place if we win we’d have taken that.

“We’ve come out of a period where we haven’t played at our best, but we’ve been winning games.

“We’re very much in the race with a couple of defining months ahead of us and things are very much in our own hands — which is just how we want it to be.”

As the Elite League title race hots up Nottingham, Sheffield, Cardiff, Coventry and Braehead have all been left to look for replacements for players that have returned to north-America after a deal to end the NHL lockout was reached last weekend.

Ice hockey works on the same time frame as football, in that the end of January is the deadline for clubs to complete their roster for the season.

And while Christiansen doesn't believe that will have a direct impact on the title tussle, it’s the quality of the replacements that might.

“You just can’t replace guys like that.

“They play in the best league in the world for a reason,” he said.

“We’ve been fortunate in the last few weeks that we’ve been able to bring in Kevin Saurette and Colin Shields and they have already made an impact.

“It’s been a seamless transition for them coming into the team because they are familiar with the league or with the guys who are around them and that makes a big difference.

“I expect there will be a lot of emails and a lot of phone calls between now and the end of the month, but we won’t bring in just anyone to fill a hole.

“I know from experience over the last two years how hard it is to get a player in January before the deadline, especially if other teams are looking for similar players.

“With all the guys who came to Europe during the lock-out going back to North America there are a lot of slots to fill and a lot of teams looking, so while we wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we weren’t looking, and every team would like to improve what they have, I am glad we’re not in a position where we have to get someone in.”

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