Thornton sounds a warning ahead of Belfast Giants clash with Dundee
Steve Thornton is adamant that he and his Belfast Giants players won't underestimate the challenge of Dundee Stars at the Odyssey Arena tonight (7.00pm).
Although the tussle with the Elite League's bottom team is sandwiched between double-headers against Braehead Clan and Sheffield Steelers - who are fighting it out with the Giants for the title - Thornton believes this evening's game is the most important of his team's post-Christmas programme.
That's because he sees dropping points against the teams outside the title race as potentially fatal to the Giants hopes of retaining their crown, with the table-topping Steelers currently five points ahead.
"The Dundee game isn't just as big as those against Braehead and Sheffield, it's possibly even bigger," said Thornton. "We have dropped points against Hull and Fife that were really disappointing.
"If we'd won those games we'd be in a better position than we are and those are games that you can't afford to drop anything in.
"I look at our results against the top teams - we are three and three against Cardiff, two and one against Nottingham and one and two against Sheffield, although the two games we lost were in Sheffield.
"You've got to try to win your series against those teams and then win your other games if you are going to win the league.
"We dropped a ball in those games and we can't get those points back, so we can't afford to drop more."
Sunday night's defeat to Braehead has prevented the Giants from having a shot at second place tonight, but losing that game isn't as big a blow as losing to Dundee would be - especially as it came on the back of a 6-1 win over the Clan at the Odyssey just 24 hours earlier.
"We have got to win our home games and apart from a couple of games we have done that this season," said Thornton.
"We know that Dundee are a danger. They may be bottom of the league but they have caused problems for teams lately and they will be a wounded animal.
"There is no way that we will be taking them lightly because we know that doing that can be to our cost."
Curtis Huppe will make his first appearance at the Odyssey Arena in a Giants shirt in over seven years this evening.
He has signed on until the end of the season as injury cover and with Kevin Saurette and Mark McCutcheon out injured, his presence on the team means that the Giants are still able to ice with a full import quota.
Huppe was part of the 2006 Elite League title-winning team under Ed Courtenay, before leaving 12 months later.
Giants forward Evan Cheverie will have an extra incentive to come up with a goal this evening as his brother Marc will be between the pipes for Dundee.