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Keefe urges young Giants to reach for stars in States

By Stuart McKinley

Adam Keefe has already achieved one of his first goals as Belfast Giants coach.

His ultimate aim, however, is to help groom players who will bypass his team and make it big.

At the time of his appointment as head coach back in May, Keefe spelt out his desire to give the Giants a Northern Ireland identity again after Graeme Walton and Mark Morrison became firm fan favourites.

Keefe recently ticked that box when he promoted Stephen Eccles from the Junior Giants into the Elite League, with the 20-year-old being on the game sheet for games against the Guildford Flames and Nottingham Panthers.

Rather than their ambition being to play for the Belfast Giants, the coach wants homegrown players to set their sights high and make the NHL their target — and in turn make history as the first Northern Ireland trained players to play in ‘The Show’.

There are numerous stepping stones on the way to the top and Keefe wants to put things in place that will help make those a jump rather than a huge leap, with a place at an American university or college an ideal move.

“People dream of playing in the NHL and one of the focuses — although we haven’t had much time or effort to put into creating an academy for the junior Giants — should be that we can help these kids on the right path,” said Keefe.

“I don’t think their goal should be to play for the Belfast Giants, it’s a few steps lower that what their goal should be.

“They should be aiming to get an NCAA scholarship and see where it goes from there.”

Ballymoney-born goaltender Andrew Dickson face the Edinburgh Capitals last weekend, but it will be Jackson Whistle between the pipes when the Giants face the Cardiff Devils tonight and Coventry Blaze tomorrow evening.

Other youngsters Adam Robinson and Ross Hancock have caught the coach’s eye and could figure in Keefe’s plans, but he believes they have missed the boat in terms of breaking into the North American set-ups due to age restrictions.

The Giants had hoped the Friendship Four US College tournament hosted at the SSE Arena would be a tool for recruitment and Darcy Murphy joined the club after playing in the inaugural competition.

Now Keefe wants things to go the other way and for the Friendship Four to help young players to get to North America.

“The Friendship Four will end up being a big thing in connecting the NCAA to Belfast and whether it is ice hockey or another sport it is a good thing for Belfast to have,” added Keefe.

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