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Walser is eager to home in on glory

By Stuart McKinley

Published 29/12/2015

Hot streak: Kris Beech has been a key man in the Belfast Giants' resurgence, scoring four goals in the last five games
Hot streak: Kris Beech has been a key man in the Belfast Giants' resurgence, scoring four goals in the last five games

Derrick Walser wants to see a return to the days when the SSE Arena was a venue that opposition teams feared coming to.

And the Belfast Giants player-coach believes success at home is a must if the Elite League title is to come to Northern Ireland.

Belfast was once a fortress for the Giants and this season they won all of their first four home games, but recently they have won two and lost two on home ice.

In contrast, the team have won four out of the last five on their travels.

That away form is what has taken them to within six points of league leaders Cardiff Devils and that could soon be wiped out as the Giants have three matches in hand.

With three successive home games in the next five nights - starting this evening against Braehead Clan and continuing against the Dundee Stars on Wednesday before a meeting with Coventry Blaze on Saturday - the Giants could be top of the table by the time they travel to Blaze on Sunday, depending on other results.

"We've played better on the road and now we have to make our home-ice advantage tell," said Walser. "I don't know why that is, but it does feel different playing at home.

"I think the players feel like we have an advantage and then the mentality is to take it easy, but I think we are learning that there are no easy games.

"We know how to play on the road and to play smarter hockey. It's also nice to go on the road and relax, but at home we have expectation on us."

The Giants have turned around a run of results that saw them win only twice in six league games from mid-November to mid-December and are now on a four-match winning run.

Kris Beech has played a big part in that, scoring four goals in the last five games, and when he reflects on the season so far Walser is largely happy with his team's form.

They have the best defensive record - although it could be pointed out that only two teams in the league have played fewer matches.

The Giants are the lowest scorers in the top half of the table too with an average of 3.5 goals per game, and that is something that Walser wants to put right as soon as possible.

"You can't play well for a full 54-game season," said Walser.

"Out of our first 25 games I'd say that we've played well in 20 of them and the other five were so-so.

"If we play well in 40 out of 50 that's not bad and we are capable of doing that. We are getting chemistry in the line-up, the guys are gelling on and off the ice.

"Every week we try to fix things that are wrong and I don't think we have scored enough goals, but we are working on our weaknesses and we are getting better.

"I am not disappointed with where we are, because we are right in there.

"A six-point gap with four games in hand and three home games to play - we could be in a very good spot by the end of that."

The Giants face Braehead for the second time in quick succession after a 4-3 overtime win in Glasgow on Sunday night.

The hectic Christmas and New Year schedule isn't new to the much-travelled Walser, but if he had his way the match schedule would be slightly different.

"In Germany we'd have been busy around this time and in Switzerland we played the Spengler Cup, which brings a different atmosphere," he explained.

"I don't mind the back-to-back games against the same teams. From a coaching point of view it's easier to look at the same team instead of trying to adjust things for different opposition.

"When you play two in a row, like we are against Braehead, I can break down their videos and make adjustments to our team, the same way that I did with Edinburgh last weekend.

"It's less work for me and it makes our preparations more straightforward.

"The one thing I would change though is that I would prefer it if we were playing the two games in Braehead or in Belfast. It would make it easier travel wise.

"I do understand the reasons behind it, that teams want home matches at this time of year to get crowds in, and there's nothing wrong with that and if that's what they need to do for the scheduling them I am okay with it."

Belfast Telegraph

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