The Stena Line Belfast Giants’ Steve Thornton and Derrick Walser have negotiated what looks like a very helpful start to the new Elite campaign.
Rarely has there been an Elite League pre-schedule that gives a true reflection of which franchise has recruited the best squad of players; a team that will meld together quickly and get better as they progress.
It will be anybody’s guess as to which franchise coach or team manager will be generally happy with the group of players they have signed at this stage of the preseason. And that is before a puck has been dropped either in a warm-up friendlies, a home or away face-off in opening league fixtures.
The thought of four line attacking forward hockey, together with the rolling of six ‘D’ men, alongside at least two puck stoppers to add to the mix will be uppermost in managers’ and coaches’ minds. Elite league hockey is certainly stepping up a level this season, especially reflected by a few top clubs that can afford the sort of budget that others cannot.
The 2016/7 Elite League schedule has just been announced, and the Giants’ opening game is just weeks away. They will open with a Challenge Cup game on the road in Fife on Saturday 3rd September.
Belfast will go in search of a fifth Elite League championship since the organization’s previous success in the 2013/14 season when they clinched the title in February with over ten games remaining.
The first Giants’ home game of the new campaign will take place in the SSE Arena on Saturday 10th September against the Fife Flyers.
There are nine home games scheduled across the December and New Year period, starting on Saturday 17th December 2016 against the Nottingham Panthers, and culminating with a ‘double header’ against the Sheffield Steelers in Belfast on Saturday 7th January and Sunday 8th January 2017. The festive season will be packed with mouth-watering ice hockey action.
The final home league games of the season will be against the Sheffield Steelers on Friday 17th March and the next night, Saturday 28th March 2017, against the Coventry Blaze. The Giants will end the 2016/17 season with back-to-back games on the road in Wales on Saturday 25th and Sunday 26th March 2017 against the Cardiff Devils.
Coach Derrick Walser will have high hopes for his squad with the new signings. This will be the first time he has had his ‘own’ team to coach and develop. Walser’s aim is to have both additional speed as well as grit in the corners to dig out the puck in the opposition’s zone.
Walser’s thoughts also involve having a bigger, tougher ‘D’ core that does not get pushed around in the Giants’ zone. This would be paramount. However not forgetting the back door, with Stephen Murphy steeling games that the Giants should in theory have lost will be eased with the thought of the new young understudy Jackson Whistle. He will be ready for any action that comes his way should Murphy fall to an injury or off period.
It is easy to hope and speculate about the new Giants’ squad at this time of the season. The proof will be in the win-loss column of the statistics yet to be written.
Let us hope that Steve Thornton and Derrick Walser have got it right this season. The Giants’ trophy cabinet has not grown in silverware recently – it could do with some shiny new accolades.
Written by Wayne Hardman
FULL SEASON FIXTURE LIST
Sat 20 Aug Bremerhaven Pinguins
Sun 21 Aug Bremerhaven Pinguins
Sat 27 Aug Braehead Clan
Sun 28 Aug away Braehead Clan soon
Sat 03 Sep AWAY Fife Flyers Challenge Cup
Sat 10 Sep Fife Flyers Challenge Cup
Sun 11 Sep AWAY Coventry Blaze EIHL
Sat 17 Sep Edinburgh Capitals Challenge Cup
Sun 18 Sep AWAY Dundee Stars Challenge Cup
Sat 24 Sep Dundee Stars Challenge Cup
Sun 25 Sep AWAY Braehead Clan Challenge Cup
Sat 01 Oct Cardiff Devils EIHL
Sat 08 Oct Braehead Clan Challenge Cup
Sun 09 Oct AWAY Sheffield Steelers EIHL
Sat 15 Oct AWAY Coventry Blaze EIHL
Sun 16 Oct AWAY Nottingham Panthers ElHL
Fri 21 Oct Coventry Blaze EIHL
Sat 22 Oct Coventry Blaze EIHL
Sat 29 Oct Braehead Clan EIHL
Sun 30 Oct AWAY Cardiff Devils EIHL
Sat 05 Nov AWAY Coventry Blaze EIHL
Sun 06 Nov AWAY Nottingham Panthers EIHL
Fri 11 Nov Fife Flyers EIHL
Sat 12 Nov Cardiff Devils EIHL
Sun 13 Nov AWAY Edinburgh Capitals Challenge Cup
Satb19 Nov Away Dundee Stars EIHL
Sun 20 Nov AWAY Sheffield Steelers EIHL
Fri 25 Nov AWAY Nottingham Panthers EIHL
Sat 26 Nov AWAY Manchester Storm EIHL
Sat 03 Dec AWAY Fife Flyers EIHL
Sun 04 Dec AWAY Edinburgh Capitals EIHL
Sat 10 Dec Sheffield Steelers EIHL
Sun 11 Dec AWAY Manchester Storm EIHL
Sat 17 Dec Nottingham Panthers EIHL
Sun 18 Dec AWAY Coventry Blaze EIHL
Thu 22 Dec Edinburgh Capitals EIHL
Fri 23 Dec Edinburgh Capitals EIHL
Mon 26 Dec AWAY Braehead Clan
Wed 28 Dec Manchester Storm EIHL
Fri 30 Dec Braehead Clan EIHL
Mon 02 Jan Coventry Blaze EIHL
Sat 07 Jan Sheffield Steelers EIHL
Sun 08 Jan Sheffield Steelers EIHL
Sat 14 Jan AWAY Cardiff Devils EIHL
Sun 15 Jan AWAY Dundee Stars EIHL
Fri 20 Jan Nottingham Panthers EIHL
Sat 21 Jan Dundee Stars EIHL
Sat 28 Jan AWAY Sheffield Steelers EIHL
Sun 29 Jan AWAY Sheffield Steelers EIHL
Sat 04 Feb AWAY Braehead Clan EIHL
Sun 05 Feb AWAY Edinburgh Capitals EIHL
Fri 10 Feb Dundee Stars EIHL
Sun 12 Feb AWAY Fife Flyers EIHL
Fri 17 Feb Cardiff Devils EIHL
Sat 18 Feb Cardiff Devils EIHL Tickets available soon
Sat 25 Feb Fife Flyers EIHL Tickets available soon
Sun 26 Feb AWAY Nottingham Panthers EIHL
Sat 04 Mar Manchester Storm
Fri 10 Mar Nottingham Panthers EIHL
Sun 12 Mar Nottingham Panthers
Fri 17 Mar Sheffield Steelers EIHL
Sat 18 Mar Coventry Blaze EIHL
Sat 25 Mar AWAY Cardiff Devils EIHL
Sun 26 Mar AWAY Cardiff Devils EIHL
Playoff Dates yet to be announced