Adam Keefe says Giants the 'real deal' in spite of run ending
They may have seen their winning streak stopped at nine games, but Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe saw enough from his side this week to believe they're the real deal.
Despite losing 4-2 to Polish league leaders GKS Katowice at the SSE Arena on Saturday night, the Giants qualified for the Super Final of the Continental Cup after finishing top of their semi-final group.
Wins over Croatian champions Medvescak Zagreb and Italy's Ritten Sport on Thursday and Friday respectively were enough to send Belfast through to January's final stage, which will see them meet Katowice again, as well as Belarusian side HK Gomel and Kazakh outfit Arlan Kokshetau.
And Keefe was delighted with how his side performed against some of Europe's best, insisting that this team are ready to bring more silverware back to Belfast.
"I think we're the real deal," said the Canadian head coach.
'We were up against a top-notch team in Zagreb and the guys showed up to perform and have a great game.
"Against the Italian team we responded really well after getting down in that game, and in this game (against Katowice) we didn't really need to win but you couldn't have told that from the way the guys played.
"I was really happy with them and I think we grew as a team this weekend."
The head coach also voiced his delight with the home fans, who packed out the SSE Arena on Saturday to see the team progress to the final stage.
While it was the Katowice 'ultras' who were perhaps the most entertaining on the week, Keefe claims the Giants fed off the energy of their own fans.
"The fans gave us a lift - being on the bench and experiencing that atmosphere was something special," said Keefe.
"I know our fans have a great reputation of travelling well to away games, though being at home for European games gave the city of Belfast the chance to come out and support the team and they made it a spectacular event.
"Our home support was the difference maker in seeing us advance to the Super Final."
Was there any frustration that they went through off the back of a defeat rather than potentially maintaining their winning run and going three from three in the group stage?
"I'm happy we're through," he said. "I shouldn't say I'm happy with a loss, we're never happy with a loss, but we're happy with the effort.
"You could say (we're disappointed it's ended), but honestly, we're not worried about our winning streaks, we're worried with how we play and how we improve as a team. We'll take a lot ofgh lessons out of this week, it was a great experience for us as a group and we can mould around it and become a better hockey team because of it."
Now the focus returns once again to the Elite League where, in their absence, the Giants have seen their lead cut to three points by the Fife Flyers and Nottingham Panthers over the weekend.
There's no grace period for Belfast, who are straight back into domestic action this Saturday when they resume their road trip with games in Coventry against the Blaze and Guildford against the dangerous Flames.
However, Keefe isn't worried about the re-integration into the league, and is confident his side will be ready to go when they travel to England for the weekend's doubleheader.
"We'll come back fresh and ready to go for the league. We'll have a couple good practices and get right back into it - the league doesn't wait for us and we've got to keep going," said Keefe.
"We'll try and rest and recover and we'll be ready to go into Coventry on Saturday."
• The Giants are believed to be front-runners to host the Super Final of the Continental Cup following the confirmation of the four competing teams.
Belfast have confirmed they will bid to host the four-team tournament, which will run from January 11-13, and there is a strong possibility they will host again.
Katowice are not bidding to host the competition, while it is understood the IIHF have concerns over the viability of hosting it in either Belarus or Kazakhstan, whereas Belfast has already proven itself as a successful hosting city.
The Super Final hosts will be named in early December.