Belfast Telegraph

Robby Sandrock desperately craves some Belfast Giants glory in Europe

BY Stuart McKinley

Robby Sandrock has been there and done it as far as playing at the top level in Europe is concerned, but that hasn't taken away his desire for more. Sandrock was a star-struck 24-year-old when he reached the Continental Cup Super Final with the Belfast Giants back in 2003 and now he wants to book a return trip.

The experience of playing in the Swiss city of Lugano helped shape his career, leading to nine years spent in Germany and Austria before returning to the Odyssey Arena two years ago.

Far from being happy to see out the final years of his career, Sandrock is driven by success and after winning the Elite League last season, he wants to top that off with European glory.

The Giants are in France this weekend, where they will face Neman Grodno of Belarus this afternoon, host team Angers Ducs tomorrow and Polish side Sanok on Sunday, with the top two teams in the group qualifying for January's Super Final.

The semi-final round was held in Belfast 12 years ago and while the Giants don't have the advantage of home ice this time around, there is a will to bring the final to the Odyssey - all the Giants have to do is get there.

"It's a massive weekend for the club," said Sandrock. "Twelve years ago we hosted this round and made it to the Super Final and we want to get there again.

"With two teams going through we have a really good shot at it."

Sandrock was just a few seasons into his professional career when he played in Lugano and he looked on in awe at the calibre of the men he was coming up against.

Over a decade later he still clings to those happy memories of a club that had been in existence for less than three seasons finishing sixth in Europe.

"It was like a whirlwind for me 12 years ago," Sandrock admitted.

"I had never played in a competition of that calibre before and I remember when we got to Lugano we were sitting down having a meal when the Russian team walked in, full of ex-NHL players. Paul Kruse went over to talk to them because he knew some of them, but I was only 23 and I was star-struck.

"At the age of 24 going to Lugano, a postcard town, was fantastic and it is something that even now, at 36, I am hungry to do again.

"This time is a new experience for me too. I have never played against teams from Poland or Belarus before."

Now the goal for Sandrock is to create more memories and more history.

The competition is largely a step into the unknown for coach Steve Thornton and his players, but they have all been doing as much research as possible, with the help of past experience.

And all that has told them is that there is every reason to believe that the Super Final is within reach, with the 15 players who returned from last season's Elite League title-winning team getting the chance to enjoy the fruits of their labour.

"I think that we have a really good chance. Our expectation is to make the Super Final, if it wasn't we might as well stay at home," said Sandrock.

"We have Colin Shields and Evan Cheverie who have both played in France and they have said that we are every bit as good as the teams over there.

"It is nice the way that things have worked out, with so many guys returning from the team that won the league, that we now have the opportunity to reap the rewards that we gained for ourselves.

"We are a close-knit group and this adds to the experiences that we have had together in Belfast and we hope that there is more to come.

"It would be great if we could repeat what the team did 12 years ago. It was a good experience to play at that level, particularly for me being quite young.

"I don't think I really appreciated it at the time. I was young and naïve. The league in Switzerland has always been strong, the Russians, the Finns and Slovaks were an eye opener for me, but it paid off for me because the coach of Lugano signed me a few years later and he said that he'd followed me since then."

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