Dominant Belfast Giants kick off Cup defence by hitting Clan for six
Belfast Giants 6-1 Glasgow Clan
There was no Champions League come down from the Belfast Giants as they switched into domestic action and brought their European form with them.
Having impressed in the CHL, the Giants allayed any fears that they'd suffer a hangover from playing on the continent with a 6-1 win over the Glasgow Clan that was every bit as dominant as the scoreline suggests.
In doing so, Adam Keefe's side went to 1-0 in starting their quest for three consecutive Challenge Cup titles and, at the same time, answered any questions that followed them from the CHL.
They got plenty of quality offense from their forwards, which included the oft absent finishing from their European games, and they finally snapped a frustrating skid on the powerplay when Jordan Smotherman scored what proved to the game winner 2:20 into the second period.
It was a gritty goal, the winger taking a couple of stabs at the puck before finally forcing it over Glasgow netminder Patrick Killeen - who made 32 saves in defeat - but Keefe will simply be happy that half of his special teams, which went 1-for-3 on the night as a whole, showed some spark.
"Champions League wasn't an indication of what we had (on the powerplay), it was all about breaking that pressure of getting one," said head coach Adam Keefe.
"It was nice. We won some key face-offs on the powerplay tonight which helped us play in the zone, so that's massive. We put a focus on face-offs before the game and they were really good as a team."
At the other end, the penalty kill was just as impressive despite conceding the only goal of the game on the 5-on-3, Scott Pitt forcing home the puck at the crease after Matt Pufahl's initial shot had hit both posts at 11:07 in the second, going 5-for-6 on the night as a whole.
But for that goal, Shane Owen, who got the start between the pipes for the opening Cup game, was unbeatable and backed up his forwards' efforts with 22 saves as Belfast opened their title defence in the perfect fashion.
His best save came when the game was well beyond their Scottish visitors, the netminder going post to post to deny Chad Rau on the powerplay midway through the final period just to emphasise the gulf between the two teams.
"We wanted to make sure we brought the momentum of the CHL and some fast-paced hockey to our own league and we did that tonight," said Smotherman.
"It was something that we talked about a lot in the coaches' room and the players' room that we wanted to bring a high level to our league. That's what will do the job for us."
It was a credit to Belfast's early dominance that they outshot their opponents 16-5 in the first period, and it was for that reason that it was fairly ironic that when the Giants did take the lead, at 13:54 of the first, it was shorthanded.
With Bobby Farnham in the box for a charging minor, Lewis Hook dispossessed Chad Rau at the blue-line and skated in on Killeen, and although the winger missed the cage altogether, Brian Ward was following in to scoop up the rebound off the back boards to finish.
"Just busted up the ice, hoped I'd get a lucky bounce, ended up getting it and ended up scoring!" laughed Ward.
"The opener tonight sent out a message to the league that we're here to play. The Champions League is over, we're thinking about our league and the trophies that come from showing up every night."
Liam Morgan continues to stake his claim for more ice time as he grabbed his first professional goal, the young winger grabbing the hosts' fourth at 17:34 of the second, roofing a rebound off Smotherman's initial effort at the back door.
Not only that but he also had a hand in the previous goal, working hard down the boards to get to the edge of the right circle and firing it across the crease for the onrushing Curtis Hamilton, who expertly diverted it over the shoulder of Killeen for the third at 5:14 of the second.
"I don't really consider us having a fourth line. Any time I have Hooky (Liam Hook) or Morgan there, it's only because there's two guys left on the game sheet," admitted Keefe.
"When they're playing with Laker (Ben Lake) or (Patryk) Wronka, or anyone else from the line-up to be honest, we don't consider them our fourth line.
"It's an easy thing for me to roll line after line and not have to worry about getting the top line out there when we have guys like Liam out there who can get the job done."
There was also a first goal in teal for British winger Ciaran Long as well, who was perfectly placed in the slot to finish off a rebound from Ward's wraparound behind the net for their fifth goal of the night at 7:49 of the final period.
And just when it looked like the scoring was done, Curtis Leonard got in on the scoring too with a ripper of a one-timer from the high slot that deceived a partially unsighted Killeen at 59:01 to put the icing on an already delicious result.
The Giants are next in action tomorrow night when they begin their Elite League campaign at the Manchester Storm (5.30pm).
Belfast Telegraph Digital