Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Giants face tough Euro trips as they prepare for Champions Hockey League debut

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

By Adam McKendry

The Belfast Giants have discovered their opponents for their first appearance in the Champions Hockey League after today's draw in Bratislava.

Adam Keefe's side will take on Swedish Hockey League semi-finalists Lulea Hockey, Czech Extraliga runners-up Bili Tygri Liberec and German DEL semi-finalists Augsburger Panther.

It is the Giants' first appearance in the competition having qualified through last season's Continental Cup, while they would have also qualified having won the Elite League title.

They will be expected to struggle against superior opposition, with all three other teams playing at a higher level, however at the SSE Arena they will hope to cause an upset.

Lulea will prove the toughest opponents, the one-time SHL champions the highest seeded side of the four and were the champions of the CHL back in 2014, however it will be a long trip to Lulea for the Giants as it is nine-and-a-half hours from the capital Stockholm.

Having been beaten in the last four by the all-conquering Frolunda Indians, who went on to win the SHL and last season's CHL as well, this season they have improved for another shot at the title.

Former Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Erik Gustafsson captains the side, while they also boast the services of Finnish internationals Arttu Ilomaki and Juhani Tyrvainen.

They also have an exciting young talent in New York Rangers 2018 first-round draft pick Nils Lundkvist on their blue line and Noel Gunler, one of the top options in this year's draft class.

Czech side Bili Tygri Liberec were only bettered by Ocelari Trinec in the Extraliga and will push Lulea all the way in the group in their fifth consecutive appearance in the CHL.

Located near the borders with Poland and Germany, and around an hour and a half north of the capital Prague, the city is the fifth largest in the Czech Republic, with the team playing their home games at the Home Credit Arena.

Much like the Giants, they haven't yet assembled most of their roster, however they have already made a significant signing by bringing in netminder Justin Peters, who has played for the Carolina Hurricanes, Washington Capitals and Arizona Coyotes in the NHL.

Former Anaheim Ducks 2009 first-round pick Ladislav Smid is also back for his second season with the team, while New Jersey Devils defenceman Roman Graborenko is signed up too.

Meanwhile, Augsburger will also be making their CHL debuts having had a sensational year in the DEL which saw them go all the way to the semi-finals only to be beaten by Red Bull Munchen.

Similarly to the other teams, they can also call upon former NHLers such as Matt Fraser, Drew LeBlanc and Adam Payerl, while they are still assembling the remainder of their roster.

Located not far from Munich in Bavaria, Augsburg is a university town.

Fellow Elite League side the Cardiff Devils got a tough draw alongside defending champions Frolunda (Sweden), Graz 99ers (Austria) and Mountfield HK (Czech Republic).

The dates for the games will be released by the end of the day.

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