Title is in sight for Giants, now for cup and play-off glory
Published 21/03/2014 | 01:30
He has never scored a goal in his professional career, but there is no doubt in Stephen Murphy's mind that the 2013-14 Belfast Giants have the firepower to make this the best season in the club's history.
The Scottish goaltender has spent the last six months watching from the other end of the ice as his forward colleagues have banged in over 200 goals between them.
That goal glut brought the Elite League title to the Odyssey and Murphy and his team-mates are now hungry to secure the second leg of a trophy treble by winning the Challenge Cup, before going all out for the Play-off title in two weeks.
Standing in their way in the final are the Nottingham Panthers, who have won the trophy for the last four years, but they will be coming up against a Giants team that has shown their hunger by winning all but one of their games since clinching the league title over a month ago.
So all the ingredients are there for this final – the first leg of which is at the Odyssey tonight (7pm) – to be a thriller.
"It's going to be tough. Although we have had the upper hand on Nottingham this season and been dominant they are the team to beat in this cup," said Murphy.
"They will be up for it and they will know what they want to do. We just want to keep doing what we've done all season, because it was good enough to win us the league.
"We are all as keen to win this as we were to win the league and that is what has kept us on the front foot since we won the league.
"It is tough to keep that motivation and intensity going and the performances since we won the league maybe haven't been that great, but we've still been getting results and our character has shown in some of those games when we've had to fight back to win them.
"We are still very hungry and that is good – it can only be positive.
"Winning trophies is what all these guys are here to do and as big as winning the league is for us, we all want to go on and win more."
Murphy's motivation tonight is two-fold. He played in the Giants' 2009 Challenge Cup success over Manchester Phoenix, but more prominent in his mind ahead of tonight's clash is losing to the Panthers in the finals of 2011 and 2012, as well as last year's heavy 9-4 semi-final defeat.
"We've had a couple of defeats in finals against Nottingham and the key thing for us is to be going there next week with a chance to win the cup," said Murphy.
"In the finals before we've left ourselves with a lot to do after the first leg and it's hard to turn that around against a good team.
"We are a different team now with a different group of guys, but for me, losing those finals to Nottingham in the past will be part of my motivation."
The big difference for the Giants this season, however, is goals – scoring plenty and conceding few. Kevin Saurette and Jeffrey Szwez are leading the way with 35 and 33 goals respectively this season and behind them are Colin Shields and Craig Peacock, each with 21.
Dustin Whitecotton and Chris Higgins have both clocked up 18 and even defensive duo Robby Sandrock and Calvin Elfring have managed to knock in 13 goals each.
Even if opposing defences manage to shut down one or two players, there are others who will come to the fore.
"It's been good this season. We've played a different style and that has given guys the freedom to be offensive and I've enjoyed watching it," said Murphy.
"Every night we have had different guys stepping up and chipping in with goals and it's nice to see.
"When you are scoring goals it makes the defensive job a bit easier, but we've also been very good in that department too – it's been win-win for us.
"The experience of Robby Sandrock and Calvin Elfring in front of me has been a big factor in how well we have done this season and I have benefited from having them there.
"They are solid players who know what they are doing and it is no surprise that they are both up for awards – I'd be very surprised if one of them doesn't win defenceman of the year.
"We've had Cody Brookwell come in this season and do very well, Jeff Mason has been great and he is showing great form.
"The Phillips brothers have been excellent too. Davy has been a regular with GB for a few years and I would expect Kevin to be in the squad this year as well."
Giants coach Paul Adey has enjoyed success in the competition before, leading the Panthers – who are the Challenge Cup's most successful team with six wins, five of them in the last six years – to victory in 2004.
He was also part of the Sheffield Steelers team in 2001, but he didn't play in the final against the Ayr Scottish Eagles.