Belfast Giants feel we belong in Champions League, says Ward
Before a puck was even dropped in the Champions League, the Belfast Giants were being written off by most as non-entities in Group C given their opponents.
With 2014/15 CHL champions Lulea, Czech regular season champions Bili Tygri Liberec and German heavyweights Ausgburger Panther their opposition, even they probably considered their chances of emerging from the group as remote.
But that's all changed. A shock win over Liberec and a battling overtime loss to Augsburg in Belfast last week sees Adam Keefe's men tied at the top of the group with the Swedes and Germans a third of the way in.
Their performances were excellent and, but for what looked to be an incredibly harsh call on Bobby Farnham's washed out goal against Augsburg, they could have held a 100% record going into this week's first CHL road trip.
Tonight, the Giants are in Liberec for the return fixture against the 'White Tigers' at the Home Credit Arena, before they enter the Curt-Frenzel-Stadion on Sunday to face Augsburg again.
And centre Brian Ward insists that while last week they may have been a little intimidated, this week that's not the case in the slightest.
"We know we can compete with some of the top teams in Europe and we really don't consider ourselves the underdogs anymore after last week," states the 27-year-old American forward.
"It's just a feeling in the locker room we have now. Going into the Champions League, we weren't sure what to expect, this being our first year in it.
"But after going out there, playing well and competing with those teams, beating Liberec and being one high stick away from beating Augsburg, we know that, even though we're from the UK league, which isn't considered as good as the Swedish league or the DEL, we're just as good a team as they are.
"We just have to bring our A game every night and compete."
It's been one of the most impressive facets of the Giants so far that they have settled so quickly despite an overhaul of their roster that has seen 13 new players arrive in the off-season, and now they could strike a hammer blow on continental soil.
Having also lost to Lulea in their second game, Liberec are marooned at the bottom of the table with no points, and a Giants win tonight would not only signal another massive shock, but it would effectively end the Czechs' interest in reaching the knock-outs.
Not only that, but there's a genuine rivalry brewing between the two teams after an explosive first game, won 5-4 by the Giants but which also featured a fight and an ejection, not to mention the fact that Liberec will want to set the record straight after an embarrassing defeat.
Ward got off the mark in that game, scoring twice for his first goals in teal, and he's hoping the Giants can prove that result wasn't a fluke.
"It got a little feisty out there, I don't think they were very happy with us," recalls Ward of the clash in Belfast.
"That's the way we play. We're a tough team and we play a rough style of hockey. That can be a lot more effective when other teams don't like to play that way and I think that showed last Thursday.
"They got defensive and it was almost like an excuse for losing to us, so that'll give us a lot of motivation going over there. One's a fluke, two's a streak I guess, so it would be really good if we went in there and showed we really are the better team."
Not only that, but a win would put the Giants in a fantastic position to emulate the Nottingham Panthers of 2017/18 by potentially making the knockout stages.
That can wait, however. Right now, they've got one game to win first.
"We're focusing on the process and just going one game at a time. We know we can win each game now," preaches Ward.
"That's the focus - one period, one shift at a time. It's more about the process than about the points we need to get because we know we can get all six if we bring our 'A' game."
Bili Tygri Liberec vs Belfast Giants
Champions League Group C
Home Credit Arena, Today, 6.45pm