Belfast Giants focusing on the positives after battling CHL road trip
AUGSBURG, Ger. -- As the Belfast Giants head back to Munich ahead of their return journey to Belfast, via Dublin, they do so in high spirits.
While they may not have taken anything from their trip to the continent, following back-to-back defeats in Liberec and Augsburg, there's plenty they can take from the two games, both on and off the ice.
On the ice, while they were far from their best against Bili Tygri Liberec, their bounceback in Augsburg against the Panther was remarkable as a short-benched effort almost saw them take the DEL heavyweights to overtime for the second consecutive meeting.
Their penalty kill was exceptional, Shane Owen had a monstrous 38-save performance in Germany, and even in the defeat in the Czech Republic they played at a pace that matched their opponents, despite fears other sides would run rings around them.
Particularly with the fact that they had to cope for the entire trip without defenceman Jesse Forsberg - who did travel but was unfit to play - and then the game in Augsburg without captain Matt Pelech, suspended following his hit on Jan Ordos in the Liberec tie.
Other teams would have crumbled. The Giants stood tall.
"We're resilient," said head coach Adam Keefe. "I'm very proud of the guys."
Off the ice too, they've gelled. The much changed roster - with 13 new faces on it - have just spent six days with each other, and they'll be better for it too.
For the second week in a row in the Champions League, the Giants proved they are more than a match for some of the continent's best teams, who are much more settled outfits than they are.
"It was a great experience. A lot of team bonding, we got to know each other well. We played some unbelievable teams in some unbelievable cities in front of some amazing fans. It's been a lot of fun," said netminder Owen.
Rookie winger Liam Morgan added: "It's my first trip in Europe, so it's been some experience. It was really enjoyable, although we obviously would have liked a win."
There are things that need improved, of course. The powerplay has been anaemic so far this season, failing to strike in the Giants' last three games, while four goals in their last three games overall isn't a great return.
At the other end, defensively they have been assured, for the most part, but turnovers in their own zone have also been an issue, with one directly leading to a goal in Liberec.
But, at the end of the day, the Giants have just gone toe-to-toe with some of the best in Europe in the CHL and emerged with plenty of credit in the bank for it.
"Hopefully we bring away a lot of confidence," said alternate captain Liam Reddox.
"You go into this tournament and, being a British team, you never know what to expect. Teams write you off and maybe you write yourself off a bit, you don't feel like you should be competing against these big league teams.
"We showed that when we show up and play, we can compete, so hopefully we recognise that and understand the kind of work that goes into having success. If we have that confidence then that's a good thing going forward."
Having impressed in Europe, Belfast get back into the bread and butter of the league this weekend when they welcome the Glasgow Clan to the SSE Arena on Saturday night (face-off 7pm), and there'll be no let up.
They can't let their focus wane because they're out of the excitement of the CHL, but it doesn't sound like that's going to be a problem.
"Keep looking forward. This is our first road trip after all. We've managed to spend time with each other away from the rink. Really good team building experience," said defenceman, and alternate captain, Kevin Raine.
"The big takeaway is we're all here. We're just as good as those guys and we've had a chance to show that. We came up a little short but it just makes us all the more excited to get back to Belfast and get back to our league.
"It's early. We're building. There's much to be excited about so there's no point in getting down on ourselves now. Every time you lose it's an opportunity to get better, so let's get better."
Unsurprisingly, after two keenly contested and brutally fought games in Belfast and Augsburg, the Augsburger Panther were glowing in their praise for the Giants and their performances.
"They're a great team, they compete really hard. From their coaching staff to their players, they compete, that's their biggest asset. They stick together," praised Augsburg head coach Tray Tuomie, who also paid tribute to netminder Shane Owen's performance.
"It's hard to play against that, and they have some skill. It's hard to play against teams that compete like they do. Hats off to Adam and his team. We're two similar teams and tonight I think we had that lucky bounce."
On the ice, there was no quarter given from either side at the Curt-Frenzel-Stadion and, had the Giants held out after they pulled level in the third period, then it would have been back-to-back overtime games between the two sides.
"Belfast is a good team, they play fast, they play hard. They were a really good test for us," added Augsburg's Canadian forward Drew LeBlanc.
"Our league is a hard, fast, physical league and that's how Belfast played. They did a good job using the size of the rink, creating odd-man rushes by using the big ice."
Belfast Telegraph Digital