EDINBURGH CAPITALS’ ice hockey goaltender Nathan Craze was glad his team got the “gorilla” off their backs when they beat Dundee Stars 6-2 on Sunday to snap a 14-game losing run. Goodness knows what adjective he would use to describe Belfast Giants and the run they’ve been on recently.
The Ulstermen come to Murrayfield for a weekend double header on a run of 12 wins in their last 13, after losing Wednesday’s first leg Challenge Cup Final 5-1 to Nottingham Panthers, looking for four points that will take them that bit closer to the Elite League title.
But they’ll try and do it against a reinvigorated Edinburgh side, carrying more confidence than they had from a win that gives them some daylight ahead of Dundee for the last play-off place.
The Caps have eight games left and a precarious four-point lead over the Stars, so they aren’t out of the woods by any stretch. The fact they got that massive victory not only brought happiness to the rink, but a sense of relief as well, as Craze confirmed.
“There was definite relief and, since January, the fixtures certainly haven’t been too kind to us,” said the Welshman. “It started to become the case that it wasn’t so much a monkey on our backs, more like a gorilla, with frustration and low confidence setting in after a while.”
“Beating Dundee gives us a massive confidence booster and any point we can get in the next eight games is really going to count. With Belfast, we’re coming up against a team in great form; who were unbeaten in February and in the middle of a huge Cup Final tie. Any point we can get would be huge against them.”
Belfast come to Scotland sandwiched in the middle of the Challenge Cup Final where they are trailing the Panthers after the first game, but it could be the first of three possible trophies for the Giants, if they can overturn the three-goal deficit.
Of course, the subplot to the match is the return, as always, of Belfast’s player-coach Dan Christiansen, a former Edinburgh Capital who spent three years at Murrayfield before moving across the Irish Sea. He remains a popular figure in Edinburgh and admits he enjoys returning to the Capital. But although it’s a crucial time for his team, Christiansen insists his players will only focus on the task at hand on Saturday and Sunday.
“I’ve got nothing but positive things to say about Edinburgh and my time there. It’s always nice to see some old faces and catch up with some people. That aside, I’m hopeful of success for the Giants this weekend, but it’s always nice to return.
“We, as a team, are only going to talk about Edinburgh and forget about what happened on Wednesday against Nottingham. It’s only when we finish the second game against the Caps that we’ll start talking about the Panthers again and looking ahead to the second leg in Nottingham.”
Christiansen has also backed his old side to reach the play-offs and labelled their weekend win over Dundee Stars as a “season changer,” plus he also singled out a couple of players for their roles in the Edinburgh side.
He added: “The Caps flew out of the traps in the early part of the season and notched up some good wins, but hit a sticky patch in January and struggled to recover. Their win on Sunday changes their season and puts them in a really good position for the play-off.
“Richard Hartmann has brought in some real quality players with Rene Jarolin as the league’s top goal-scorer and there are still players learning their trade. Nathan was my back-up goalie last year and this is his first year as a starter and he’s been playing well recently. We have to make sure that we can put pressure on him and his defence.”