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Giants must be up for the Challenge: Keefe

 

By Stuart McKinley

Adam Keefe is determined to ensure that the Belfast Giants' Challenge Cup victory last season isn't a one-off success by going out and winning it again.

The coach admits, however, that one of his first jobs this summer has been to educate his new signings on exactly what the competition means.

Ten new players have been signed during the close season, while Jonathan Boxill returns after a season spent in Milton Keynes, and Keefe has had to change the North American mindset where the play-offs at the end of the season are the big prize and get them to realise that every game matters.

That means wanting to start with a bang in this weekend's Challenge Cup trip to Scotland where they will face the Dundee Stars tonight before travelling to the Fife Flyers tomorrow.

"The Challenge Cup is a different format, but the league is a different format too for the North American guys. I think it's the only one in the world for ice hockey where the league is the main title," said Keefe.

"We have to educate them on that and then educate them on the Challenge Cup - how it's run, the format and then prep the guys for that.

"It's educating them and making them aware. Most teams in North America and around Europe are playing to make the play-offs and then being at their best going into that, whereas here September is just as important as April and that's a much different thing for guys to wrap their heads around and that's why we want to get off on the right foot."

The Giants play four Challenge Cup group games before getting their teeth into the main action in the Elite League in 10 days' time.

The battles with Dundee and Fife are perfect opportunities to establish a playing style and build confidence for the league opener at home to the Nottingham Panthers, but Keefe is driving home the message that the end goal of lifting the trophy again must be kept in mind rather than thinking of the next four outings as warm-up matches.

"It's down to me to make sure the guys are well aware of that and the challenges ahead," said Keefe. "The Challenge Cup is a trophy to win and we approached it like that last year and were fortunate enough to win it.

"Each game we want to get better and we know there is still going to be a bit of rust. We do feel that for the time of year we are as well prepared as we're ever going to be.

"We know they will be tough challenges. Dundee and Fife are tough teams to play in their own buildings and I think given the make up of their respective teams this season they will be looking at the Challenge Cup as a trophy that is very winnable. We certainly want to defend our trophy and it starts on Saturday."

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