New-look Giants have to put own stamp on it, says Keefe
After their success last season, it was inevitable that there would be a summer overhaul of the Belfast Giants' roster.
Some moved on to bigger and better things - Darcy Murphy, Tyler Beskorowany, Kyle Baun, Josh Roach and, on the coaching side, Patrick Dwyer.
Some reached the end of their careers - Giants legend Colin Shields, veteran defenceman Jim Vandermeer, goalscoring centre Dustin Johner, Kendall McFaull and, for the second time, winger Chris Higgins.
In all, the defending Elite League and Challenge Cup champions have seen 15 players from the side that participated in the play-offs depart the team in the off-season, and all of them needed replaced.
That task fell to head coach Adam Keefe and head of hockey operations Steve Thornton, who set about assembling a team that would both be competitive in the league and represent them in their debut Champions Hockey League (CHL) campaign.
It was a long and arduous summer that saw both successes and knock backs. For the most part, the Giants got the players they wanted, while at the same time some targets opted to go elsewhere for a variety of reasons beyond the recruitment staff's control.
Crucially, though, the Giants are happy with what they have.
"Just making sure you replace what you're going to miss," said Keefe on the approach to signing this year's roster. "This year's team is going to be a lot different to last year's team because those players provided certain things and the new players we've brought in will provide different things.
"Nobody's alike, so this is a completely different team. We're looking for guys to come in and have a big impact and want to be impactful in this line-up and make it their line-up.
"I said to the guys before (our first) practice, 'This is a fairly new team here, put your dent on it and make it yours'.
"We've got the right guys in here who will buy in and get on board and work towards getting better every week."
While the players may have changed, the Giants' style of play will not.
"I won't change a whole lot. (I'll) change with the times and change where I need to, but for the most part we'll play very similarly to last season," insisted Keefe. "Obviously I have to wait to see how the guys look on the ice and how different pieces of the puzzle fit in, and then if we make adjustments, we'll make adjustments.
"But for me, if it isn't broke, why fix it?"
The Giants' training camp is still in full flow, with the arrivals of Curtis Hamilton, Bobby Farnham and Jean Dupuy this week completing the roster, as the head coach gets his first look at what he's working with.
So far Keefe has been impressed.
"Last week was more about getting guys up to speed and getting the rust out of their legs without going too hard on them," said the Canadian.
"This week is more about getting on the same page. There's still guys getting their timing down, that's still happening naturally over the next few weeks, but for this week we want to get everyone on the same page so we know what we're doing out there."
They'll quickly be tested, not only by the European superstars of Lulea, Bili Tygri Liberec and the Augsburg Panthers in the CHL, but also in what is looking to be a tight Elite League too.
While the Cardiff Devils will always be competitive, the Sheffield Steelers look to have recruited very strongly in the off-season, as have the Glasgow Clan under new head coach Zack Fitzgerald.
As a result, the Giants will up their intensity in pre-season too. Swedish side Mora IK, who were relegated from the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) last season, are in town tomorrow and Sunday for two exhibition games, with Danish side Herning Blue Fox coming to the SSE Arena next weekend for another two matches.
"We want to play against sides who will be fast and full of pace and, in turn, will push us to play faster," explained Keefe. "We know once we get to the Champions League things will get faster, so we want to get our feet wet this weekend against a side like Mora."
You would forgive Keefe for maybe being a little fatigued after his summer, having helped lead Great Britain to survival in the World Championships in Slovakia and putting together a whole new team, but he's just looking forward to getting back behind the bench.
"Everybody's excitement levels are building and we're just raring to go," he added. "We'll be happy when this week comes to an end and we hit that ice in front of our crowd."