Flyers and Giants up for the battle

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Belfast Giants are a team in search of silverware.

The trophy cabinet has sat undisturbed for the past few seasons, and for a club expected to deliver titles and trophies, that isn’t good enough.

While many clubs would be thrilled with their level of success, when you play out of a major city in front of a huge fan base in a stunning arena, and are sporting ambassadors for the country, the bar is raised.

Giants have always been a top five EIHL team, but fourth of fifth doesn’t count in their book.

The last of the three league titles was back in 2013/14 - a season which saw them clinch their conference and finish as play-off runners-up.

They’ve been league runners-up four times overall, including last season, but the current run is the longest without silverware in their 17-year franchise history.

So, failure in the Challenge Cup really isn’t an option.

Giants come to Kirkcaldy as league leaders and on the back of a solid four-point weekend which included a big 3-2 road win over Sheffield Steelers, one of the teams which stands between them and success every season.

They have played Flyers twice already, winning both games.

The match in Belfast was an easy 5-0 stroll – Fife had one eye on a key conference match with Braehead the next night, and it showed in their performance.

The encounter in Kirkcaldy was in danger of going the same way as Giants racked up a 3-0 lead before Flyers rallied to 3-2.

An empty net goal – the puck fired out of the zone and off the boards to divert into the unguarded goal – secured the points for the Irish outfit.

Giants chose Fife in the unorthodox ‘pick your own opponent’ quarter-final draw, and must be confident of making it three wins on the spin against Todd Dutiaume’s side. They will come to Fife with key players back in the line-up after suspension, but minus leading PIM-taker, Spiro Goulakos which completes a three-game ban on Saturday.

Giants are tough and talented, and are driven by Adam Keefe who has been at the heart of the Belfast club for nine seasons.

For the past eight he led on the ice - a hard-nosed, hugely competitive player who was much more than just the team captain.

He led the team to that 2013/14 league title and a record points haul and now has the challenge of leading from behind the bench, his own skates now hung up.

Any team coached by Keefe will be gritty and hard to play against.

His three centreman, Seb Sylvestre, Colin Shields and Brendan Connolly lead the team stats. Interestingly two of them are also in their top three penalty takers.

They will lead the line against Flyers, with the back up of key guys such as Steve Saviano, the coach’s player of the year from 2016-17, and the recently returned David Rutherford, the former Edinburgh Capitals’ forward who can antagonise, agitate and deliver a killer goal, all in the same shift.

If any player is likely to noise up the Fife crowd, it’s Rutherford ...

The match-up is Flyers’ biggest challenge to date – and the first real test of their ambitions to fight for silverware.

With a big crowd behind them – this really is a night when the fans have a huge part to play – they can hit the ice with real intent.

Todd Dutiaume’s side have produced some smashing performances across this season and are motoring nicely in the league.

But the quest this year is to bring silverware back to Kirkcaldy – the first in the club’s EIHL era.

They are in control of their conference, but they also have a real chance to progressed to the last four of the Challenge Cup for the very first time.

If Giants are a club in search of silverware, so too are Flyers.

They have to make home advantage count this weekend – and they can then travel to Belfast in January knowing their victories on the road have marked them out as a team to watch.

In many ways this is the match-up they anticipated.

This quarter-final head to head has all the makings of a pre-Christmas cracker.