Belfast Giants' hopes of Euro glory given boost with home tie
The Belfast Giants' hopes of tasting European success have been given a major boost.
After sealing a place in the Continental Cup - ice hockey's equivalent of football's Europa League - by virtue of their Challenge Cup victory back in March, the Giants have won the right to host one of the semi-final rounds at the SSE Arena, meaning Adam Keefe's men will have home advantage in the battle to secure a spot in the final series in early 2019.
The announcement was made in Budapest yesterday, when the Giants also found out two of their three opponents. They will face Croatian champions Medvescak Zagreb and GKS Katowice of Poland, with the fourth team to come from one of the quarter-final groups, which involves Ritten Sport of Italy, Hungarians MAC Budapest, Slovenian side Acroni Jesenice and Crvena Zvezda Belgrade from Serbia.
Dates are still to be confirmed, but the other semi-final round in Lyon will be played from November 16-18 and with no events currently scheduled for the SSE Arena on those dates that would seem the most likely time for the Belfast round to be played too.
For Giants fans memories will turn to the only previous occasion when Continental Cup action took place in Belfast.
With number one goaltender Ryan Bach missing through injury back-up Colin Ryder stepped in and produced two man-of-the-match performances in keeping shut-outs in the first two games - a 3-0 win over Norwegian side Valerenga and a resounding 8-0 victory against the Rouen Dragons of France before beating the Linz Black Wings from Austria to secure top spot.
Dave Whistle's team then went on to finish sixth in Europe after a single victory in the Super Final stage, against Swiss side Davos.