Belfast Giants kicked off the week with the news that they had beaten fellow EIHL sides to the signing of former fan favourite Paul Deniset. Deniset was a starring light in the 08/09 Giants team that won the Challenge Cup and Knockout Cup double. The 29-year-old Canadian will make his debut in Friday’s clash against the Coventry Blaze at the Odyssey. But will he be the EIHL equivalent of Kaberle to the Boston Bruins of last season?
Depsite signing the potent goal scorer Head Coach Doug Christiansen has hinted that this will not be his last signing as the teams prepare for the run in. With Nottingham resigning Sean McAslan and Sheffield picking up Luke Fulgham from Coventry it appears Christiansen is keen to add an extra import skater to bolster his squad.
With these signings though it still is not clear as to who has the advantage heading into the end of season run in. Belfast currently led the way with 55 points. That is 5 points ahead of Nottingham who have also played 33 games whilst in third place is Sheffield. The Steelers are currently on 46 points but have 6 games in hand. It is this disparity between the Steelers and the 2 teams above them that makes it hard to tell who is looking the stronger at this stage of the season.
Nottingham has McAslan back in the side giving them an extra import skater but did lose against Braehead and Cardiff last week. Whilst Braehead is a difficult place to go to it was game they should have taken, as was the home defeat to Cardiff. These two defeats that show an inconsistency in the Panthers team that was highlighted by Sundays win in the EIHL’s most difficult rink Cardiff. It is this inconsistency that will cost the Panthers the league title.
Sheffield on the other hand will have the harder run in with less time between games but for Ryan Finnerty’s men there is not the added games and pressure of a Challenge Cup semi-final unlike their rivals in Belfast and Nottingham. However they are playing catch up with their games in hand and a game in hand is only good if you win that game so the pressure is on them.
Then of course there is the Coventry Blaze. Whilst Paul Thompson’s men are currently 15 points off the pace they have been boosted by the news that title sponsor CCP (a west midlands construction firm) have been bought by new owners securing their sponsorship deal that should firm up the clubs difficult financial situation. This may also give Thompson the confidence to bring in another player. It would still be a long shot for the Blaze but with two games in Belfast this weekend two wins could bring the Coventry team back into contention.
Despite Belfast having the more dramatic squad changes of the top 3 this season they must stay as the favourites. The Giants have held the top spot for almost all of this season and have found a way to beat all teams avoiding loses against the teams at the bottom of league table in those should win games.
With Belfast and Sheffield in the form they have shown over the busy Christmas and New Year period all eyes will be on the Odyssey on St Patricks night. The 17th March is the date when Sheffield and Belfast meet for the second time in two nights and for the last time this season and will probably be the effective title decider.