Belfast Telegraph

Liberec determined to roar to victory in Belfast

 

Pedigree: Liberec’s Slovakian international Libor Hudacek
Pedigree: Liberec’s Slovakian international Libor Hudacek
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Despite their unbeaten pre-season, the Giants are set for a huge step-up in class when Bili Tygri Liberec arrive at the SSE Arena tonight for their Champions Hockey League Group C opener.

While Mora IK and Herning Blue Fox gave Adam Keefe's side a good work-out, the head coach has been preaching to his side that the Czech Extraliga runners-up are going to force them to reach another level to come away with the result, and that will certainly be the case tonight.

Nicknamed the 'White Tigers', Liberec have been consistently one of the best sides in the Czech Republic, reaching the final of the play-offs three times in the last four years and winning the league title in 2016.

Having reached the semi-finals of the CHL in 2018, Liberec will be determined to go one step further on their return to Europe's elite competition having missed out on qualification last season.

Their star names include 11-year NHL defenceman Ladislav Smid, Slovakian international Libor Hudacek and netminding tandem Justin Peters and Marek Schwarz, while centreman Michal Bulir played in the KHL last season for Metallurg Magnitogorsk.

With a much faster style of play, the Giants will need to address the penalty issues from pre-season in order to prevent Patrik Augusta's charges from utilising their dangerous powerplay.

"Like the rest of the teams, we want to advance and go as far as possible. As newcomers to the group, Belfast is a bit of an unknown team for us," said Augusta.

While Liberec are also something of an unknown for the Giants, they do have some prior knowledge from a couple of their new names on the roster.

"(Liberec) are very good defensively and when they get in the offensive zone, they get it cycling, they get moving. The d-men are going to be jumping in, the forwards are going up, they're going to be all over the place," says winger Liam Reddox, who played them in the CHL with Vaxjo.

"It's going to be important we have a lot of chatter, a lot of talk to make sure we're in the right positions, and we need to do what we're trying to do in pre-season - have good gaps in all three zones, smother teams, don't give them time to breathe. If we do that then I think we'll be okay."

Forward Curtis Hamilton also has history with Liberec from his time in the Czech Republic when his HC Sparta Praha side were defeated by them in the final of the 2016 Extraliga play-offs.

"We lost to them in the finals, I think in six games. They had a good team," recalls Hamilton, who played in the Czech Republic for one season.

"It should be a good game. They'll be a little bit quicker, a little bit more physical and a bit more skilled. Keefer has been preaching if everything is a little bit faster then we should be okay."

• UNLIKE in the Elite League, teams receive three points for a regulation win in the CHL, two points for an overtime win and one point for an overtime loss.

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