Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe believes that, despite being handed a brutal Champions Hockey League draw, his side should be aiming for the knockout stages of the competition.
The Giants will take on Czech champions HC Oceláři Třinec, Swedish giants Skellefteå AIK and Swiss powerhouses HC Davos in Group H of the CHL — one of the toughest groups in this year’s competition.
Last time they were in the CHL, three years ago, the Giants picked up just one win from their six group games against Bílí Tygři Liberec in arguably an easier group, but Keefe is still confident his side can produce some big performances on the continent and shock their opponents to become just the second British side to reach the last-16.
“It’s a very difficult draw for us but we knew that any team we got was going to be a challenge. We feel that we do belong in the Champions League and we’re excited for it,” said Keefe.
“We know from our last experience in the Champions League that skating will be very important, and that will be our focus over the summer.
“We want to be competitive in each and every game, but we’re going in with the mindset that we want to reach the next level.”
Although they may be fourth seeds in Group H, the Giants’ opponents are not taking them lightly either, in recognition of their double-winning season.
“It’s exciting. We have two big clubs in Skellefteå and Třinec, and I’ve spoken to the people from Belfast and they’re very passionate as well, talking about their fans,” said Davos’ sporting director Jan Alston.
“We can’t wait to travel over there and experience that.”
Vladimír Orzágh, the assistant coach of Třinec, added: “I think it’s one of the toughest groups. There’s teams like Skellefteå, one of the top teams in Sweden, and the same for Davos, they’re one of the top teams in Switzerland.
“We don’t know much about Belfast, but UK hockey is on the rise. They have a lot of Canadians, a lot of imports, so they will not be an easy opponent in this group.”
The Giants’ opening game is away to Třinec on September 2, with their first game at the SSE Arena two days later on Sunday, September 4 against Davos.