Doug Christiansen is confident that Garrett Zemlak is up to the challenge of being thrust into the Elite League title battle.
The 23-year-old goaltender has answered an SOS from the Belfast Giants after regular starter Stephen Murphy was ruled out for at least the next three weeks.
Zemlak will have a baptism of fire in Giants colours when he makes his debut in a key clash with his old club Fife tonight before Saturday night’s mega top-of-the-table showdown in Nottingham.
And with the Giants fighting to claw back a six-point difference on the Panthers, this evening’s game in hand is regarded as the biggest of the season so far.
“We can’t replace Stephen Murphy, that’s simple, he is the most valuable player on our team and he is the most valuable player in the league,” said Christiansen.
“All that I have seen of Zemlak when I have coached against him has been good.
“I have never seen him play a bad game against us, either last season with Fife or for Braehead this year.
“I have already told him not to worry about everything that might be going on around him. To forget how well we look after our players and that we are in a nice place in the standings.
“All I want him to think about is that he’s coming into a good team and he’s not going to be facing 50 shots a night. We just want Garrett to go out and make the saves that he’s expected to make — and maybe a couple that he isn’t expected to make.”
Zemlak had been playing for the Giants Elite League rivals Braehead Clan until he was released a week ago. He had been due to fly back to Saskatchewan, Canada yesterday, but instead he was on his way to Belfast.
No definite date has been placed on Murphy’s return to the line-up and there are fears that he will also miss Great Britain’s Olympic qualifying tournaments in Latvia next month.
Whatever happens, it looks almost certain that Zemlak will remain a Giant until the end of the season — and without the team’s import limit being affected as Sam Roberts has been ruled out for two months with a broken collarbone, joining another injury victim, Andrew Fournier, in the stands.
“The deadline for signing players is January 31 and while it is possible to bring someone in after that you have to jump through a lot of hoops,” said Christiansen.
“We don’t want to have to rush Stephen Murphy back and risk further injury.
“We were fortunate that Garrett was available when we needed someone and we might not be as fortunate a second time, so he’ll be here as long as we need him.”