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Euro bound: the Giants will be in next season’s CHL

Euro bound: the Giants will be in next season’s CHL

�William Cherry / Presseye

Adam Keefe

Adam Keefe

Ryan Lasch

Ryan Lasch

Getty Images

Euro bound: the Giants will be in next season’s CHL

Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe hopes that their participation in next year's Champions Hockey League (CHL) will help to promote the profile of the sport in Ireland.

The Giants will make their first appearance in Europe's premier ice hockey competition after accepting an invitation to participate from the CHL board yesterday.

The position usually given to the Continental Cup winners was passed on to the Giants as runners-up after champions Arlan Kokshetau were ruled ineligible to compete.

The CHL were also impressed by the Giants' hosting of both the semi-finals and final of the Continental Cup, which undoubtedly aided with the decision.

And now Keefe is hopeful that his team can be good ambassadors for ice hockey in Ireland when they come face-to-face with some of Europe's elite sides when the event begins in August.

It's hoped that this appearance will also help speed up the process of acquiring an additional ice rink in Northern Ireland to help with the development of young players for the future.

"A second ice pad - and a third, a fourth and a fifth - is very important for the whole island of Ireland, not just Northern Ireland," said Keefe.

"The more people that play hockey, the more people will support us, and not only that but more people will enjoy the game and get the benefits of learning the game, and it will only help everyone involved.

"It'll give the youth of Northern Ireland another option and sport, and I know first hand that it can keep you out of trouble and committing yourself - whether that's making it for the Belfast Giants or getting to the NCAA - so you can get your college degree as well.

"All those things are important, and we have to do as much as we can to build the brand of ice hockey in Ireland that people think it deserves."

In the short-term, however, the Giants can start looking forward to some high-profile games against sides from established hockey nations such as Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

The likes of defending champions Frolunda Indians or European heavyweights such as Vaxjo Lakers, SC Bern or Eisbaren Berlin could be coming to the SSE Arena next season, while the incentive of being in the CHL should help attract some high-profile players to the club to fill out the roster.

"It's nice to be in it, and it's exciting for next year," smiled Keefe. "It's exciting for our fan base and the organisation has deserved it from the level of professionalism that they put on, so it's great to see for them.

"I'll get excited when summer comes and I'm building the team, but right now I'm focused on the tasks at hand. We want to win these to earn our rightful berth into the competition as well."

However, the Giants head coach hasn't given much thought to his ideal grouping when the draw is made in May, adding: "No, I haven't thought about it. It's nice to be recognised and asked to compete in it, but for me right now my mind is completely on (tonight) and getting back into the Challenge Cup final."

They'll know their Challenge Cup fate by the time the final buzzer sounds tonight at the end of the second leg of their semi-final with the Glasgow Clan at the SSE Arena (face-off 7pm).

The Scottish side hold a 2-1 advantage heading into tonight's game following the first leg and are on a hot streak right now having won 10 of their last 12 games in all competitions.

However, the Giants - who are looking to defend the title they won last season - will be confident that they can turn it around at home, particularly trailing by only one goal.

"Glasgow are the best team in the league right now, their form makes them the most in-form team and we'll have to be at our best to beat them, especially having spotted them a one-goal lead," admitted Keefe ahead of the first of three games against the Clan over the next four days, with the teams meeting for two league games on Saturday and Sunday.

"We'll approach it as we have to win one game at home, which we know we can do, then we'll set up a one-off Championship game.

"The Challenge Cup is important, I've always thought that as both a player and a coach, and I was happy for our guys to win it last year and I'd love to see this group of guys do the same."

Belfast Telegraph