Giants to take on Europe in Champions League

With the Belfast Giants’ pre-season fixtures now firmly in the bag their focus turn to the first of the competitive games of the season.

And the Giants’ focus this week is the European Champions League (CHL) in which they have been drawn in Group H alongside Czech Extraliga champions Oceláři Třinec, six-time CHL participants Skellefteå AIK from the Swedish SHL and the Swiss side HC Davos.

Here’s is the rundown of the sides that the Giants will face in Group H, starting away against the Czech side Oceláři Třinec this Friday and then at the SSE on Sunday against HC Davos.

Oceláři Třinec

Swiss side HC Davos improved upon their eighth-place finish in 2020/21 with a fifth-place finish in 2021/22 and earned their fourth trip to the tournament. Picture: Champions Hockey League

Of the 12 Czech clubs that have represented the country in the CHL, Třinec hold the most qualifications with eight.

Last season, the Czech side became national champions for a second consecutive year after downing Sparta Prague in the play-off finals.

With their fourth championship secured, Třinec will again battle against Europe’s best as they vie for a place in the play-offs.

The last three campaigns haven’t been kind to the club from eastern Czech Republic. Four years have passed since their appearance in the semi-finals, as Třinec haven’t been able to capture that same magic. Fresh competitors, however, could be a welcomed challenge for the Czech side that completed the “golden hattrick” in 2022 - winning the title three times in a row (2019, 2021, 2022).

On the heels of a third-place finish in the SHL regular season, Skellefteå AIK were ushered into the quarter-finals but ultimately fell to Färjestad Karlstad four games to two. Nevertheless, a strong performance in their domestic league has cemented them as one of the five Swedish clubs skating in the 2022/23 season of the CHL. Picture: Champions Hockey League

Ones to watch: Martin Marinčin – The Slovak defender skated in 227 NHL games and is a key component to Třinec’s defence. Last season he was third among the club’s defenceman in scoring with 15 points in 42 games.

Marek Mazanec – Another former NHLer, Mazanec made it all the way to the CHL Final with Mountfield HK in 2019/2020. The 31-year-old was also instrumental in helping Třinec bring the title back home this past season.

Skellefteå AIK

On the heels of a third-place finish in the SHL regular season, Skellefteå were ushered into the quarter-finals but ultimately fell to Färjestad Karlstad four games to two. Nevertheless, a strong performance in their domestic league has cemented them as one of the five Swedish clubs skating in the 2022/23 season of the CHL.

Ocelari Trinec Erik Hrena during the CHL game between Leksand and Ocelari Trinec on August 29, 2021 in Leksand. Picture: Champions Hockey League

The pan-European competition is nothing new to the six-time participants and neither is it to their Group Stage opponents, HC Davos. The Swiss side took care of the Swedish in the 2015/16 Quarter-Finals, and it wouldn’t be until 2018/19 that Skellefteå would return to that leg of the tournament.

Ones to watch: Oscar Möller – A dual threat on the powerplay as well as the penalty kill, Möller is entering his fourth season as captain and wears the C well.

Jonathan Pudas – Pudas delivers an excellent shot and knows how to find his teammates in traffic. Last season he placed third on the team in scoring and was awarded defender of the year in the SHL.

HC Davos

The Swiss side improved upon their eighth-place finish in 2020/21 with a fifth-place finish in 2021/22 and earned their fourth trip to the tournament. Davos’ bid for the national title got off to a great start this year when they defeated fellow CHL qualifiers Rapperswil-Jona Lakers in the quarter-finals, but their collapse against EV Zug in the semis foiled any hopes of hoisting the trophy.

In their three previous performances, Davos have experienced all the ups and downs of CHL hockey. The 2015/16 campaign saw them skate in the Semi-Finals against Frölunda Gothenburg, while their next two qualifications amounted to a Round of 32 appearance and a Group Stage exit, respectively.

This year, the 31-time NL champions are excited to be back in the CHL as, “it’s great exposure for our brand and for our club,” according to their sports director, Jan Alston.

Ones to watch: Magnus Nygren – Nygren has been a leader in our team for years. He handles the puck well at the blueline and can create offence with his formidable shot. The Swede has also suited up for 18 CHL matches.

Reflecting on the his team’s goals in the Champions Hockey League Giants’ head coach Adam Keefe said: “This is an exciting time for our organisation, but also for the city of Belfast as a whole – with the Champions Hockey League coming to Northern Ireland for the second time. Facing Oceláři Třinec, Skellefteå AIK, and HC Davos presents us with a tough challenge in our group, with impressive rosters and a highly skilled level of ice hockey on the table.”

Commenting on the match up with Oceláři Třinec, Keefe said: “Facing Oceláři Třinec away on 2 September will not only be our CHL opener of the season, but our first game of 2022/23 altogether. Filled with quality players, skating an offensive hockey game, and contending in the highest Czech hockey league since 1995 – we’ll have to be on top of our game against this opposition.”