Belfast Giants winger Mark Cooper believes being forced to grind out their 10th win in a row rather than coasting to a comfortable win will only stand them in good stead moving forward.
Adam Keefe’s side extended their winning run into double digits with a 3-2 win over the Fife Flyers in Kirkcaldy on Saturday, however they needed overtime to do so as goals from Cooper and Jeff Baum were cancelled out by strikes from Tommi Jokinen and Michael McNicholas.
But J.J. Piccinich ensured the second point would head back across the Irish Sea when he scored a penalty shot 2:04 into the extra period, keeping the Giants’ streak alive.
It is the first time in their 10-game run they have both been taken to overtime and failed to win by at least two goals as the Flyers proved sterner opposition than they were in the Giants’ 4-1 win at the SSE Arena on Friday.
But Cooper doesn’t see either of those things being a negative, instead claiming they will be better for the experience of having to fight to the final buzzer for their points rather than coasting to yet another victory.
“You gotta learn how to win in close games and teams will only get better as the season goes on, so games will get closer,” points out the 29-year-old Canadian.
“We have been scoring a lot of goals in this win streak but this game we’ll definitely take as a learning experience that we can’t take anyone lightly.
“Everyone wants to beat us because we’re near the top of the table, so we have a target on our backs.
“We learn something from every game, but this one especially was good because learning to play close games will be huge for us down the stretch and especially next week.”
With their latest win, the Giants stay three points off the Sheffield Steelers and Cardiff Devils at the top of the Premier Sports Elite League standings, and with the Welsh side in town on Friday for a potentially crucial tie in the context of the title race, Cooper still thinks he and his team-mates are the team to beat.
“Knowing we have a lot of games still to play against those teams is big for us. We have five against Sheffield and four against Cardiff, so we can control our own destiny which is always a positive,” he adds.
“Cardiff are a great team and in both games we’ve played against them we’ve played well but haven’t gotten the result we want from them.
“Hopefully we can turn that in our favour, but I’m sure it’s going to be another close one all the way to the finish.”