If there’s something Belfast does well, very well, it’s hospitality.
If you look by all the nonsense of last weekend’s Sheffield double header, you’ll see a large number of the travelling support talk of how they love coming to Belfast and what a wonderful time they have had.
This isn’t uncommon. The EIHL Double Headers held in our city are often well attended and ferociously celebrated.
The pride we hold in our City is underpinned by our ability to put on a good spread.
And so this weekend, for the first time, Belfast gets to hold the IIHF Continental Cup Final, and not before time.
15 years since our last and only other appearance in the Super Final the landscape of European Hockey has significantly changed. Back then Giants were facing (and in one case beating) European powerhouse clubs like Davos and HC Lugano.
An 8 team tournament, Giants were to finish 6th overall, watching as Terren Sandwith, a D-man who helped the Giants reach the tournament by aiding in the ISL Championship the previous season, went on to win the Continental Cup on penalty shots with Jokerit Helsinki.
Sandwith would subsequently bring his gold medal to the Giants fans at the tournament such was his connection with the club.
Now the Continental Cup sits, notably, as the Second Tier European Trophy with the European Champions Cup which was then subsequently usurped by the now established Champions Hockey League, taking the mantle in the upper echelons of European Ice Hockey achievements.
Yet for EIHL clubs and many hockey leagues around the world it sits as a legitimate goal for the level of hockey competed at week in week out.
Nottingham Panthers victory in the tournament 2 seasons ago showed that the EIHLs position in the competition was one of the stronger leagues and it has become the most realistic ambition for European silverware for all Elite League clubs.
And so the Giants take to home ice to face HK Gomel (Belarus), Arlan Kokshetau (Kazakhstan) and renew pleasantries with the only team to defeat them in the last round, GKS Katowice (Poland).
It cannot be underestimated how great an achievement hosting this tournament is and the advantage it gives to our own Belfast Giants.
I was as disappointed as anyone that, having qualified, the Giants haven’t had an actual foray onto the continent to give the fans a European adventure to live long in the memory. The likes of Landshut, Bremerhaven or, for those old enough to remember, Lugano sit uniquely in the minds of those there, but sadly not this year.
However the ability to host comes with its own advantages. Increased number in support and home comforts that aid progression in the tournament. Success is paramount, and your voice helps in that.
As the tournament gets underway today, the excitement builds as a trophy is at stake.
But unlike in Lugano, when a few hundred hardy souls braved the Swiss winter to cheer their team to a remarkable win over HC Davos, this time the Giants will be backed by a few THOUSAND fans in their own back-yard.
This is a European trophy, one with a long and storied history, which will be handed out on Belfast ice to one of four teams. But this is an opportunity for the Belfast Giants to make another mark on the international ice hockey landscape.
Over the last 24 hours twitter has been awash with former players sending their support from afar. Cavalin, Wilkinson, Rebek, Elfring, Lloyd and the great Theo Fleury just a few of the names throwing their backing to the side whose crest they once wore with pride.
Make no mistake, almost 20 years of the Belfast Giants history has solidified our place in the UK game with championships and success. But to win an international trophy would not only amplify that success, but will further stamp the EIHL’s mark on the European game.
Belfast is a proud City, the Giants a proud club. We have hosted NHL teams, World Championships, NCAA tournaments and more.
Today we add the IIHF Continental Cup Final 2019 to that list, and our Belfast Giants are in the hunt!
PODCAST: #WheresTommy? – This Week’s A View From The Bridge prepares for the IIHF Continental Cup final weekend, reflects on a big weekend of wins over the Steelers and chats with Ryan Martinelli and Curtis Leonard.
A View From The Bridge Podcast, Official Podcast of the Belfast Giants, part of Kingdom Of The Giants.
Words: Patrick Smyth