Kohei Sato: We have shown Belfast Giants are still a top team

Reigning champions out of the title race but recent performances have given cause for optimism

Kohei Sato in action for the Belfast Giants Picture: William Cherry/PressEye

The Belfast Giants took two points from last weekend’s double-header with runaway league leaders Sheffield Steelers and, despite having now officially fallen out of the race to defend last season’s title, Giants forward Kohei Sato insists his side will take away plenty of positives.

Despite the Giants demonstrating their quality on Saturday night after securing an impressive 5-2 win over Sheffield, the Steelers bounced back with a vengeance to topple Adam Keefe’s men 6-1 the following night.

The loss was the final nail in the coffin for the Giants’ hopes of retaining their title and, with just nine games of the regular season remaining, the Belfast side have already turned their focus to the end of season play-offs.

With their final league position at the end of the regular season determining their seeding, every point matters as the Giants seek to salvage the last of their remaining silverware from last season’s remarkable treble.

Giants Japanese forward Kohei Sato has reflected on the performances at the weekend, choosing to focus on the positives of having secured two points and a convincing win over a dominant Sheffield side.

“Obviously, we all know that Sheffield are top of the league and have a really good team,” Kato said.

“We were very well prepared, we had studied them and had real focus going into the weekend. We had good energy and Jackson (Whistle) played really well to keep us in it. He made some really big saves and has been in great form for us recently.

“On Sunday, I think we probably gave them a bit too much respect. They came out of the blocks quickly and had us chasing the game. They capitalised on a lot of their powerplay opportunities so we can’t give away those chances.

“We lit a fire under them on Saturday and they took it to us the next night. They were very good and full credit to them but we showed they are not undefeatable and we still have a pretty good hockey team here in Belfast.

“So, I think the key from the weekend was just knowing that we are just as good, if not better.”

The Steelers used Sunday’s momentum to springboard to more success during the week, securing a 3-1 Challenge Cup final win over Guildford Flames on Wednesday night.

“After going through barren patch since their 2020 Challenge Cup success, this was the franchise’s first major trophy and they are now well on course to replicate the Giant’s treble winning success this season.

The Giants have won the league title for three successive years but injuries and a much-changed squad have been factors in their inconsistent season.

The Belfast Giants have turned their focus to securing a place in the end of season play-offs

However, the Giants have somewhat returned to form in recent weeks with the return of key players and a sense that the team has gelled at just the right time for the business end of the season.

“We have been talking about bringing momentum into the play-offs and finding consistent form by then,” the 26 year-old explains.

“I think there are lots of positives to take from the weekend and we just need to focus on one game at a time and keep moving forward.

“We have Guildford this weekend and they are just six points behind us. Every game matters more than ever now.

“They lost the [Chaellenge Cup] final against Sheffield and they’ll be annoyed.

“I think we lost to them in the last two games we played, so I think we owe them one. We just need to come out and play with pace, play hard and show we can dominate teams.”

The Giants face the Guildford Flames in a home double-header this weekend at the SSE Arena.