Current EIHL champions, the Belfast Giants are away from home this weekend, following the Nottingham Panthers in heading into European competition in Group B of the Continental Cup. The Giants will face Fischtown (Bremerhaven) Pinguine from Germany’s DEL2, CSKA Sofia from Bulgaria, and Tilburg Trappers of the Netherlands in round-robin play at the 4,200-seat EisArena Bremerhaven.
It’s a nice rink, fitting of European competition:
The city of Bremerhaven is in Northern Germany on the Baltic coast, and is one of the largest ports in Europe. Located near to Bremen on the River Weser, it is Bremen’s port and historically a major naval base, which contributed to it being heavily bombed in WWII. Now part of the city-state of Bremen, it’s stuck out on the mouth of the Weser and is the fourth-largest port in Europe.
But enough of the city…what about the three teams Giants will be facing this weekend? Let’s take a look at them:
FISCHTOWN PINGUINS REV BREMERHAVEN
|Home arena||Eisarena Bremerhaven
|Colours||Black, Red, White|
|General manager||Hauke Hasselbring|
|Head coach||Michael Stewart|
The hosts are probably the team standing most directly in the way of the Giants qualifying for the next stage-the current DEL2 champions sit fourth in their league after 8 games and will have a loud and passionate home support behind them. Built out of a mix of experience and youth, the Pinguins have several names familiar to EIHL fans in starting goalie Brett Jaeger (formerly of Coventry Blaze) and forward Brendan Cook (formerly of the Nottingham Panthers and Braehead Clan). The Pinguins also contain a large number of experienced and not-so-experienced imports both from North America and Eastern Europe, and like the Giants are a roster who have played together for more than one season and know each other very well indeed. Standouts among them include 6’5 Canadian defenceman Ryan Martinelli, the vastly experienced Russian Andrei Telyukin and skilled, experienced Czech scorer Jan Kopecky. Others to watch for include talented centre Andrew McPherson, who’s one of the key creative players. Make no mistake, this is a very tough test indeed and will be an excellent match for the Giants. They’ll be expecting to go through to the next stage in their home arena, and will work very hard to make sure they do so. The group could well come down to the meeting between Belfast and the Pinguins.
|Home arena||Sofia Winter Sports Palace(capacity: 2,500)|
The Bulgarians are something of an unknown in this group. Qualifying from the preliminary round in their home rink against the Serbian, Romanian and Turkish champions, CSKA are made up of a mix of Bulgarians and other Eastern European nations. They’re assembled from a motley level of the lower Slovak leagues, the minor Russian levels and one Swede, Andreas Johnsson. Notable names include Kristijan Simo, who spent two seasons playing for the ENL/NIHL’s Peterborough Islanders and MK Thunder a few years ago, and current top scorer, Slovak centre Marek Mendel. As the team who’ve already had to go through a preliminary competition to get this far, they should be the weakest in the group. But the simple fact is, nobody knows much about them either way. The Giants pedigree should see them take a fairly comfortable win, however.
|Home Ice Stadium||Stappegoor IJssportcentrum Tilburg (capacity 2,500)|
|Team Colors||Blue, yellow|
|Head Coach||Paul Gardner|
Tilburg are a team familiar to British fans, having made several trips over to the UK to play both Coventry and Hull in recent years. The Trappers are among the best teams in the Dutch league, which is generally viewed as slightly below EIHL standard, but not by much. They’re made up mainly of Dutch players, and contain a whole bunch of the Dutch international squad that lost to Great Britain narrowly in the last World Championships, including club and international captain and standout Dutch star Dierderick Hagemeijer and national team starting goalie Ian Meierdries. Also this year the Giants will come up against a former Fife Flyer in forward Kris Hogg, who will be one of the Trappers’ main offensive threats (he scored 29+32 in his lone EIHL season). Other notable players include forwards Peter Van Biezen and Steve Mason
The Trappers have had a fraught offseason, with questions over whether there’d even be a Dutch league thanks to financial issues in the domestic game. They are also notable for having possibly the worst player profile photos ever committed to film.
Here’s captain Dierderick Hagemeijer, getting in touch with his “bad boy band album cover” side:
But, in the worst of the lot, forward Jeffrey Melissant pulls out his best “game-face” (and we don’t mean the game you play on ice.)
The Trappers have had mixed results vs British teams in the past, but as athe opening opponents to the Giants on Friday, it’ll be crucial for Belfast to get a win to set up their Conti Cup campaign in the best possible way. They will provide a potential banana-skin early on as a gritty, hard-working opponent, but should be beatable…they have the chance to play spoiler in this group though, and an outside chance of qualification if neither Belfast nor Bremerhaven take them seriously enough.
So there’s your opponents, Belfast. Forward Adam Keefe has already tweeted that the Giants have “unfinished business” in Germany after their trip to Landshut ended in disappointment last time, so there’s no question the EIHLers are up for this. It should be a heck of a weekend in Northern Germany.
Good luck, Giants. Do the EIHL proud.