Belfast Telegraph

Giants in the groove but only warming up, says Riley

Fife Flyers 2-4 Belfast Giants

By Stuart McKinley

Belfast Giants captain Blair Riley has sent out a chilling warning to the rest of the Elite League.

On the back of six successive victories - a run that has taken them into third place in the table, just two points behind the Nottingham Panthers at the top - Riley has declared that the team is about to get even better.

The last five of those wins have all been away from home, including Friday's 5-2 victory over the Dundee Stars and Saturday's 4-2 success against the Fife Flyers, with 10 of their 13 games before Christmas also being on the road.

A recent injury crisis is showing some signs of easing, with Cole Jarrett and Dustin Johner returning to action at the weekend and having an impact, with Jarrett scoring the fourth goal in Fife.

Goaltender Stephen Murphy, defensive pair Jeff Mason and Spiro Goulakos and forward Kevin Raine remain out and Riley believes with a full roster the Giants will be a force to be reckoned with.

"Obviously we knew this was going to be a tough stretch for us, based on the travel schedule, plus the way the injuries have piled up, it's made it that more difficult," said Riley.

"Obviously we want to get some bodies back and get healthy here for this next little bit coming up.

"We're getting close to a number of guys coming back and I think we'll be a better team for having gone through this, coming up towards Christmas and into the second half of the season.

"Adversity brings teams together any time you go through things. We'd obviously prefer to not have to go through this sort of stretch, but it's better to have it happen at this time of year rather than later on towards the play-offs stretch."

The wins in Dundee and Fife made it back-to-back four-point weekends in Scotland, having beaten Braehead Clan and the Edinburgh Capitals the previous Saturday and Sunday.

Although the Scottish sides aren't in the same conference as the Giants, wins on the north side of Hadrians Wall are key to any team that is hoping to mount a title challenge, and over the last five seasons they have been harder to come by than in the years previous to that.

"Any trip over to Scotland is difficult for teams and you hear from any interview from players over the last couple of years they talk about the depth of the league and how there are no easy games," said Riley.

"We have played very well at home and those trips to Scotland are difficult."

The Giants had to fight off a threatened comeback to secure the points in Fife.

First-period goals from John Kurtz and Darcy Murphy had them in the driving seat and the Giants looked to be in total control when Colin Shield's goal early in the third period made it 3-0.

Danick Gauthier gave Fife some hope towards the end of the second period and when Ian Young cut the lead to a single goal seven minutes into the third period the fightback really looked like it was gaining momentum, but with the Fife goaltender pulled in an attempt to find an equaliser Cole Jarrett's late empty-net goal sealed the win.

Belfast Telegraph

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