In-form Blair Riley can propel Belfast Giants to Continental Cup success
BELFAST Giants captain Blair Riley will carry a rich vein of form into the Continental Cup as his team bid to emulate Nottingham's achievement of 2017 by winning ice hockey's equivalent of football's Europa League over the next three days at the SSE Arena.
Riley has scored 23 goals in 35 Elite League matches already and is well on the way to at least doubling last season's tally of 14 in 53.
The Giants are up against Gomel (Belarus) tonight, followed by games against Katowice (Poland) and top seeds Arlan (Kazakstan) over the next two days.
Of the trio, only the Poles are familiar opposition, having beaten the Giants 4-2 in the qualifying event in Belfast in November to join their hosts in this weekend's finals.
Riley is looking forward to a chance to pit his wits against different opposition from the norm and the Giants go into the series after impressive back-to-back home league wins over Sheffield Steelers.
"It's exciting to be able to switch off from the Elite League for a while as it can become a bot of a grind at times," said the 33-year-old forward.
"It's nice to see some different competition and to be able to see where we stack up against them and we want to take this opportunity to rep[resent our league.
"With Nottingham winning the Continental Cup two years ago, we see it as a chance to establish our league throughout Europe and it's also great to be playing in front of our home fans.
"The Sheffield games were good preparation for us and they were tightly contested and more intense than many of our previous matches and that made it even sweeter to come out on top."
Giants coach Adam Keefe has been busy sussing out the opposition although he prefers to concentrate more on his own team's preparations.
"We are felling good about ourselves going into the weekend after having to play really well to win two tough games against Sheffield," he said.
"The Continental Cup is obviously different with the element of surprise but I've been trying to eliminate that as much as possible with watching some video and looking at the opposition stats.
"We know what we'll be up against with the Polish team, who are a good side that skates well but the main focus for now is on the first game.
"Ultimately, we will have to work on our own game and I am pretty confident that, if we come out with our best effort, we will be alright against any of the teams in this tournament.
"Right now, there is a trophy up for grabs and we want to win it on our own ice. You can feel the excitement in practice and, hopefully, it will grow over the weekend."