Steve Thornton last night confidently declared ‘we’re the team to beat’ on the eve of what he hopes will be a perfect 10th season for the Belfast Giants.
Wins in two cup competitions made it a successful debut campaign for Thornton last time out as the first coach to lead the Giants to cup glory.
Now his sights are set on bringing the league title back to the Odyssey Arena — now the only competition he hasn’t won as either a player or coach in Belfast.
“I would maybe have swapped one of our cups for the league last season, but not both,” said Thornton.
“The expectation in Belfast is that we win games and we win trophies.
“Nobody is going to win every game, but that’s what we’ll try to do every night and we’ll try to win every trophy too.
“We’ve got a tough start with four of our first five games against teams that finished above us last season.
“This weekend we go to Nottingham and Hull and for both it’s their home opener and they’ll want to put on a good show for their fans.
“Then we have Sheffield home and away with travelling in between and that’s going to be tough.
“Then we have Coventry who a lot of people are saying are the team to beat.”
That is a point that Thornton is quick to counter.
“We are the team to beat,” he said.
“It’s not a false confidence. I’ve put a lot of work into recruiting the players who I believe can improve us as a team.
“Defensively we’ll be stronger. We have more depth there and it’s a department that I think there will be a big improvement in.
“In the forwards, I believe our top six forwards will all be among the top forwards in the league.”
One of those forwards has already endeared himself to the Belfast crowd.
Pierre-Luc Faubert netted a hat-trick in last week’s pre-season encounter with the Newcastle Vipers and is well on the way to being a real crowd favourite at the Odyssey.
With last season’s top men Paul Deniset, Bobby Robins and Andrew Martin all moving on to further their careers in stronger leagues, there are big skates for Faubert to fill.
“Faubert is going to be very good,” said Thornton.
“He’ll definitely be one of the top players in the league this season.
“We had players who scored a lot of goals last season, but it’s impossible to keep them when you are competing with teams that have a much bigger budget.
“I’ve brought a lot of new players in this summer and I take that as a compliment that they want to come here with a view to furthering their careers in Europe.
“Colin Shields has come back in great shape. He was great from Christmas on last season after what I thought was a slow start. If he can continue that form then we’re in for a great season from him.
“Brandon Benedict has shown up well so far and Pat Bateman will be a big part of our team, checking and crashing people.”
It will be a while before Thornton himself is able to play after summer surgery was delayed and new goaltender Stephen Murphy is only rated at 50-50 by the coach to debut in Nottingham after a knee injury.