Keefe hails fightback from depleted Giants despite defeat to Nottingham
BELFAST Giants head coach Adam Keefe was left with a bittersweet feeling as his side fell to a 5-4 defeat to the Nottingham Panthers on Saturday night but showed a huge amount of character in the process.
The short-benched Giants came into the game without the injured trio of Jeff Baum, Chad Butcher and Kevin Raine, and they were hit even further when Tyler Soy failed to start the game and then star winger Mark Cooper limped off during the second period.
But, despite those setbacks and being 5-2 down at the second intermission with seemingly no way back, the Giants rallied and gave it everything they had in the third period, and they brought it back to a one-goal game through goals from David Goodwin and Colby McAuley.
They nearly forced overtime, too, however an excellent crease-clearing intervention from Panthers defenceman Kelly Summers prevented the tying goal in the dying seconds and condemned the Giants to only their third loss of the season.
But Keefe was ecstatic with the fighting qualities his side showed in the third period, although he wasn't able to gloss over what had been a disastrous first period that gave them too much to do.
"Nottingham came out well at home, which is to be expected given the night it was, with a bit of history in the building and it was a big night. They brought in a new body as well in (Fabrizio) Ricci, and you usually play well after you do that," said Keefe.
"We were also aware Nottingham had good home form recently. That being said, I don't think we started on time. We weren't ready, we were sloppy and then obviously losing Cooper throws a wrench in proceedings.
"I liked our fightback. I thought our second period was decent but we still were giving up too much defensively.
"Third period we were fantastic, it was a real character moment for us and that's what we challenged the group. We didn't care about the score, we challenged them to fight as a group to the end and I thought they did that. We were unlucky not to get rewarded."
The Giants, who are now fourth in the Elite League table and seven points behind league leaders the Guildford Flames with three games in hand, had started the weekend superbly with a 5-2 win at the Manchester Storm as Scott Conway led the way with a three-point night.
Ciaran Long, Cooper, McAuley and Steven Owre were also on the scoresheet at Planet Ice Altrincham to extend the Giants' winning streak to six games, but they would come unstuck at the Motorpoint Arena a day later.
Adam Brady, David Levin and Luke Ferrara had the hosts three goals to the good before Conway continued his strong weekend with a goal before the first buzzer, but Jordan Kelsall and Brett Welychka put the result to bed before the Giants' fightback.
Keefe is in a wait-and-see situation with his injured players, with Baum, Butcher and Raine playing no part in the entire weekend, while they will hope Cooper and Soy are not long-term problems after exiting the game in Nottingham.
By the end of Saturday's game the Giants had just nine players on their bench during the game - five players less than their opponents - and with a tricky double-header away to fellow title-chasers the Sheffield Steelers coming up this week, they can ill-afford to be so short-benched.
There is a possibility they will look to dip into the player market for reinforcements, however it is likely they will be short-term as opposed to a long-term addition.