Belfast Giants 6 Fife Flyers 2
Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe says that moving forward he won’t compromise the development of the team’s young stars by giving them game time for the sake of it.
Keefe handed full debuts to 17-year-olds Kell Beattie and Mack Stewart in Friday’s 2-0 win over the Fife Flyers and then rewarded them with full shifts against the same opposition on last night as the Giants romped to a 6-2 win that seals their place in the Challenge Cup knockout stages.
Both looked right at home at the top level of British ice hockey but Keefe says this doesn’t mean they will be permanent fixtures in the line-up moving forward, particularly given they will face sterner tests, such as away to defending league champions the Cardiff Devils in their Elite League opener on Saturday.
“Mack and Kell did a great job for us and it’s duly noted, but there is another level of this league they will be facing and we will have to be protective of them as well as develop them. There is a difference,” warned Keefe.
“You have to develop them but you can’t throw them to the wolves, so to speak. It was great to see tonight, it was a great starting point, but we will evaluate as we go, see what we have in the line-up and where we can fit them in.”
Beattie and Stewart are the first two Northern Irish players to make their competitive debuts for the team since Stephen Eccles and Adam Robinson in the 2017/18 season, and the hope is that they will develop into more regular contributors than their predecessors, who made 20 combined appearances.
“I’ve been very impressed. Prior to training camp we’ve had the Hamill twins, Mack, Kell, Jamie Ferguson, Travis Lavery among many others, seeing what they can do,” revealed Keefe.
“Kell and Mack have been great for us in practices and we had Carter Hamill out there as well last week. It’s eye-opening for me that there is a generation here that, if we play our cards right, then we could have some homegrown guys here full time in the future. That is the goal for us.
“There’s a lot of work to be done for all of them, it takes a lot of focus and commitment for guys to succeed. But this was a great starting point for Mack and Kell.”
The Giants were back on top scoring form in the win over the Flyers, Scott Conway grabbing a double in the 6-2 victory which takes them onto 10 points in Group A of the Challenge Cup and seals a last-eight place with two games to spare.
Griffin Reinhart got his first goal in a Giants jersey, while Ciaran Long, Jordan Boucher and JJ Piccinich struck in the win, with Keefe pleased with how they are tracking ahead of their league opener against the Devils in five days’ time.
“Going into this game we wanted to make sure, with the task we have coming up this weekend in Cardiff and Coventry, we cleaned up some of the mistakes that we’d been giving up,” explained the head coach.
“We gave up a goal in the slot, the second one was a tip, but aside from those two we didn’t give them much. That was a good sign, albeit we were facing a tired Fife team on a travel day, so we should be doing that. I thought the guys did a good job.”