Belfast Giants ‘confident’ ahead of Play-offs weekend says captain Mark Cooper

Cardiff clash is last chance of silverware for Adam Keefe’s side

Press Eye - Belfast, Northern Ireland - 19th March 2023 - Photo by William Cherry/Presseye

Belfast Giants' Mark Cooper with Cardiff Devils' Josh batch during Sunday's Elite Ice Hockey League game at the SSE Arena, Belfast. Photo by William Cherry/Presseye
Belfast Giants' Mark Cooper insist the atmosphere in the squad is positive ahead of their Play-off showdown with Cardiff Devils

The 2023/24 season concludes this weekend as the Giants face the Cardiff Devils in the semi-finals of the Elite League Play-Off Finals in Nottingham.

This is the last chance for Adam Keefe’s side to secure silverware and retain the Play-Off trophy after what has been a disappointing campaign overall.

The winners will progress to the final on Sunday where they will face either Guildford Flames or Sheffield Steelers.

There has been a fierce rivalry between the Giants and the Devils in recent seasons, who have been the dominant teams in the Elite League up until this season.

Following an impressive campaign so far, Sheffield Steelers are seeking to emulate the Giant’s treble winning exploits of last season, with the English side having already won the Challenge Cup and Elite league.

It has been a rollercoaster season for the Giants, having enjoyed a winning streak at the start of the season before injuries and a downturn in form saw last season’s Grand Slam winners exit the Challenge Cup in dramatic fashion as well as struggling in the league.

Adam Keefe’s side has been bolstered by the return of several players from injury and the mid-season return of some of his trusted lieutenants from last season’s treble winning squad resulting in an upturn of form in the league run-in.

Now, as the men in teal head into finals weekend seeking to salvage the last of their remaining silverware from last season, Giants captain Mark Cooper is hopeful his side will carry their recent momentum into the weekend.

“The atmosphere in the squad is positive and confident going into the weekend.” Explained the Giants captain.

“I think the last half of the season we have been in pretty good form and in this last stretch we’ve played all the big teams and done quite well so I think we’re excited for Cardiff on Saturday night.

“We’ve had some ups and downs. We started on a thirteen-game win streak and then fell off the mark a bit and had some adversity, but now we’ve found some chemistry. We’ve been clicking more lately which is the perfect time to be clicking.”

“The message from the coaches has been to battle hard, do it for each other. There are two more big games and it’s time to make memories forever.”

The return of the Giants captain – who spent two and a half months on the sidelines this season – has played an important role in helping to steady the ship, but he credits other key individuals in the squad for turning the side’s fortunes around.

Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe
Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe

“Jackson Whistle has really been a standout player for us,” szaid the 31-year-old.

“He has stood on his head ever since he took the net.”

“Ben Lake has been playing well all year and the addition of David Goodwin coming back around Christmas time has had an impact.”

“The group has really meshed. We have had a mixed lineup all season for various reasons and now we’re able to solidify our lineup. It’s going to be special.”

Belfast Giants assistant coach Jeff Mason added his thoughts ahead of the weekend’s crunch tie with their Welsh rivals.

“There’s one last chance for a trophy this weekend.” Mason said.

“The guys are excited to give it our best on Saturday and hope that carries us through to the final on Sunday.

“Our top line of Ben Lake, David Goodwin and Daniel Tedesco will hopefully have a good night and carry us forward.

“However, we need big performances from everyone because Cardiff are a difficult squad to play against. We’ve played against the Devils recently and taken points away, so we’re confident we can beat them.

“We’re going to have to be at our best and need our defensive core to be really solid to move pucks out of our zone and up to the ice at their end.

“We’re peaking at the right time so hopefully we can come away with a trophy this weekend if we’re on our A-game.”