Ice HOCKEY coach Doug Christiansen is looking forward to the challenge of pitting his wits against his old team, when the current boss of reigning league champions Belfast Giants returns with his table-topping side to Murrayfield on Sunday for an Elite League encounter against the improving Edinburgh Capitals (face-off 6pm).
Christiansen, who spent three seasons with Edinburgh as player-coach between 2007 and 2010, is now in his third year with the Giants, and said: “I know first-hand that the Caps can make Murrayfield a difficult place to play, and they have improved their team since the last time we played them [a comprehensive 9-1 victory in Belfast].
“On that occasion, they had to play their back-up goalie, and they’ve signed an additional defenceman, so I’m expecting them to be a completely different opponent.
“I had an outstanding experience in Edinburgh. I learned a tremendous amount, and had the opportunity to play with and coach some great players.
“We made the play-offs all three years and achieved some things we should all be proud of. The relationships and experiences I had in Edinburgh have left me with some very fond memories.”
Christiansen had a bitter-sweet final year in Edinburgh, winning the league’s coach of the year award, which paved the way for his move to the Giants, but suffering a horrific leg injury in the season’s opening game, which ended his playing career at the age of 32.
Christiansen said: “There’s nothing better than playing in a big game; the second best thing is coaching it.
“I’m very fortunate to have been given this opportunity with Belfast which has allowed me to stay in the game. I loved every second that I played both professionally and as an amateur and that was something that hopefully people thought about me when they saw me play.”
For Edinburgh’s present player-coach Richard Hartmann, this weekend, which also includes a trip to third-placed Sheffield Steelers tomorrow, is about maintaining an improved level of performance that saw his team snap a six-game losing streak with a 6-2 home win over Hull Stingrays last Sunday.
Hartmann said: “We have to realise that Sheffield and Belfast are two of the best teams in the league, but we’ve played well in our past three games and we need to take the positives from that and play our best game. We have to play well defensively, and we can’t afford to switch off for a single shift.”
The experienced Slovakian has been delighted with the acquisition of new recruits Brent Patry and Curtis Leinweber, not least as it now gives him options when it comes to team selection – a luxury after playing the first third of the season short benched.
He continued: “The guys need to realise that there is competition for places now, and they all need to fight for their spot. As a coach, it is good for me that if someone isn’t playing well enough I can replace them.
“I hope the boys understand that and are prepared to fight for their place in the line-up.”
Sunday’s match – which also doubles up as a Challenge Cup game, a competition from which the Capitals are already eliminated – will see two referees take to the ice as part of the Elite League’s trial of the system used in some of the world’s top league’s including the NHL.
Hartmann admitted he’s a fan, which see’s one referee for each half of the ice: “We have seen throughout the league that there have been spearing incidents and other foul play that goes on away from the puck and it’s difficult for one referee to keep an eye on everything.”