Colin Shields last night claimed that the Belfast Giants have shown their determination to become Elite League champions by recruiting quality players to pull the team through an injury crisis.
With a handful of players struck down, coach Doug Christiansen first brought in a player with 88 NHL games under his belt and this week a man who was a key performer in the Giants’ Play-off title win returned to Belfast.
Christiansen’s men lead the way by five points going into this weekend’s game and the coach is doing all in his power to keep the team there right until the silverware is handed out next March.
Brad Smyth has already netted three times and scored nine points in the eight games he has played since arriving when Brandon Benedict got injured just five games into the season.
Michael Jacobsen will join the line-up when the Giants head to Cardiff tomorrow night, by which time the Nottingham Panthers may well have cut that lead to three points.
“It is a huge boost to the team that Michael Jacobsen has come in,” said Shields.
“It’s not just in terms of numbers, but he is a guy who did an unreal job for us last season.
“It shows the commitment that the club has that when guys go down we can bring another big player in to keep us strong.
“Brad Smyth has come in too and he’s been excellent, adding a lot of quality and experience to the team.
“When we see guys like that coming in at a time when we’re down on numbers it really helps.”
At most Christiansen has been able to ice just 12 skaters in the last half a dozen games, which is why the recruitment of Jacobsen is so important.
The lack of numbers has meant a heavier workload on those still able to play, with Shields being one of them.
It could be worse though.
“The first couple of games it was hard because we weren’t used to it,” said Shields.
“It meant going from the low 20s, in terms of minutes on the ice, to maybe 30 minutes a game for some guys.
“It is harder for the defence than the forwards because they have guys coming down on them and have to chase the puck into the corners.
“It’s up to the forwards to hold guys up, try to keep the puck deep and save the defencemen and help take the heat off them.”
Shields doesn’t seem to mind that he doesn’t have as many team-mates around him at present.
He is back among the goals, with a hat-trick against the Newcastle Vipers last Saturday night, which he hopes is the start of a goal glut after an early-season drought.
“I started the season slowly, but I’ve been getting chances and it was good to get the three goals last weekend,” said Shields.
“It has helped that others have been scoring and Brett Hemingway has done really well.”