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Posted on Tuesday, October 16th, 2012 at 12:14 pm
It’s been almost 10 years since Giants fans climbed en mass aboard a chartered flight to Switzerland. The Alpine town of Lugano the venue for the IIHF Continental Cup Super Final. A weekend of games that in itself was an unbelievable achievement for a franchise so fresh in its’ existence.
Wrapped up warm in the snowy conditions, the traveling faithful crammed into the aging arena hoping the impossible could become possible. But in a competition littered with talent in a pay-scale that would cause nosebleeds in the then ISL, Belfast gave a great account of themselves, sending fans home happy and proud of their teams valiant effort. Not least with a victory over European “super-club” Davos under their belts.
This very month, the Belfast Giants will attempt to climb this mountain once more. For only the second time in franchise history, the Giants will travel to central Europe in competition for the IIHF Continental Cup.
Landshut, a town in the Lower Bavarian region of Germany, is the venue for Qualifying Group B of this year’s competition. The 6,500 capacity Eisstadion am Gutenbergweg is home to the Landshut Cannibals. Currently reigning champions in the second tier of German Ice hockey, 2nd Bundesliga, Landshut in its previous guise as Eislaufverein Landshut were one of the founder members of the German top division, the DEL. Established as a team in 1948, Landshut has cut the teeth of players such as Marco Sturm and Christoph Schubert. Pavel Bure also once pulled on the Landshut jersey, scoring a hat-trick in his only appearance. Now led by Head Coach Tobias Abstreiter, and containing former Nashville Predator and local boy David Elsner, they hope to replicate the fortune Belfast had itself in 10 years ago, when as hosts they progressed to the next round of the competition.
Ruijters Eaters Geleen, or Geleen Smoke Eaters, will be Belfast initial opponents in the competition. Hailing from the Limburg province of The Netherlands (Travellers Note: They are NOT from ‘Holland’ ) Geleen qualified as Dutch Champions in the North Sea Cup, a now defunct league that involved teams from both Belgium and the Netherlands. In a league of a standard not too dis-similar to our own here in the Elite League, Geleen rivalled Giants pre-season opponents Tillburg Trappers in the quest for the Dutch Championship, defeating them in a 3 game sweep at the semi-finals stage before victory over The Hague in the finals, 3 games to 2.
Head coach Danny Cuomo’s side is made up in the majority by Dutch players, peppered with some imports like Canadian defenseman Mike Looby, a player with significant experience in the OHL and CHL as well as playing alongside recognisable names for UK Hockey fans such as Dennis Maxwell, Hull Stingrays Kurtis Dulle and former Cardiff Devil Sylvain Deschatlets.
The final opponents for the Giants are the most recent qualifiers to the tournament, who only last weekend made their way through Group A to be part of October’s games. HSC Csikszereda of Romania defeated teams from Israel, Turkey and Serbia for the right to face the Giants, Geleen and Landshut in Bavaria. One of the most successful teams in Romanian ice hockey, from the town of Miercurea Ciuc, HSC are the current MOL Liga regular season champions. MOL Liga is competed for between teams in both Romania and Hungary, forming the top tier of hockey between the countries. Currently lying mid table in the league their seasons thus far has been hampered by preparation for Continental Cup, which they previously competed in 2011, reaching the third stage of the competition before elimination in Italy.
The Belfast Giants will be hoping for a large and loud travelling support, having spent some time watching German hockey I can say the atmosphere in Landshut will be second to none. The German sports fans are renowned for their noise, their exuberance and their welcome.
The Bavarian ale will be free flowing and the atmosphere will be electric.
As the Giants prepare for another key moment in their franchise history we know that fans from across the EIHL will wish them well. And to those travelling out I wish you a safe journey. Bring your drums, bring your shirts, your scarves and your flags, but most of all bring your voice!
I’ll see you out there, we are no doubt in for quite the experience.