The Coors Belfast Giants take on their toughest opponents to date on Friday as last year’s League Champion Coventry Blaze and their most hated rivals, the Newcastle Vipers come to town on Saturday.
A rare weekend double header at the Odyssey will see the Giants facing off in two of the most important games of the season, and it’s only the middle of October. Player/Coach Steve Thornton scored the winning goal against the Blaze two weeks ago in Coventry, but he won’t be in the line up on Friday night because he will be serving the final game of his four match ban, but Thornton summed up the feelings in the locker room this week in training:
“Friday is a huge test for us, we stole 2 points from the Blaze in Coventry and they mean nothing if we can’t follow that up with a win in Belfast. When you become a Giant, it quickly becomes known that the games against Coventry and Newcastle are the biggest and most intense of the season. Coventry are always the team to beat, they are the defending Champions and I know at the end of the season, they will be fighting for the league title. We want to be there with them battling it out for the championship which makes all of these games against the Blaze twice as important.”
Saturday is a completely different story. The Newcastle Vipers return to Belfast is what has to be one of the most anticipated games at the Odyssey in years. There is bad blood between these two teams from three encounters already this season. It all began when Vipers coach Rob Wilson left his bench in Belfast to attack Giants player/coach Steve Thornton for apparently ‘running up the score’ on the Vipers when the Giants dismantled them 8-2 in Belfast in mid-September. The following weekend, the Giants headed to Newcastle for a double header where the teams each won a game, but it was the incident between player/coach Steve Thornton and Andre Payette that made all the headlines, resulting in a four game ban for Thornton.
His first game back is on Saturday against none other than the Vipers and with their team loaded with toughness, the Giants are getting ready for a real old-fashioned grudge match. General Manager Todd Kelman has already asked for the league to make sure the official working the match was prepared for the tactics that Newcastle have earned a reputation for so far this season.
“Are the Vipers the toughest team in the league? I would say they are by a mile and they have it out for Belfast and particularly our coach Steve Thornton. I have no doubt in my mind that their tough guys will be going after our skilled guys and in particular, our coach. We are all a team here in Belfast, and in my eyes, we are the best team in the league. I’m not just talking about the 16 guys on the ice, I’m talking about the 4,000+ people we expect in the stands as well. They have shown no respect to our team or to our fans and I want everyone to come out and support Steve and the rest of the guys in what I hope will be the sweetest victory of the season.”
Tickets are available online at www.ticketmaster.ie or at the Odyssey box office on (028) 9073 9074. Doors open on Friday and Saturday night at 6pm, the puck drops at 7pm.