By Kris Smith
Stars want to capitalise on their home advantage when they host the league leaders in the first leg of the league cup quarter finals tonight.
Top-seed, Belfast Giants picked Dundee Stars in the Challenge Cup quarter-final draw and Giants chose to play the away leg first.
Belfast won Group B and finished five points clear of Stars in second place. The Giants were the only team that Dundee did not beat in the group stage after they lost 4-1 in Belfast and 4-2 at home.
Adam Keefe’s men have won their last nine league games and two weeks ago they qualified for the Continental Cup Super-Final. The Northern Irish outfit won two of their three group stage games but advanced with the only side to beat them, GKS Katowice.
There were key players on both sides during their two group stage clashes, Jim Vandermeer and Kyle Baun both scored twice against Dundee and ex-Star, Paul Swindlehurst notched three assists. François Bouchard was the standout player for Dundee with a goal and an assist in the two games.
Stars were at full strength last weekend in their back-to-back victories over Fife Flyers but Colin Shields, Andrew Dickson and Matt Towe were all absent for the Giants in their two wins at the weekend.
Stars have beaten the Giants in just one out of five games this season. They skated to a 5-3 home victory after goals from Mike Sullivan, Bouchard, Lukas Lundvald (2) and this week’s Elite League player of the week, Jordan Cownie lifted them past the league leaders. There have been a few fights between the sides this season and another feisty clash could be in store.
After learning his side would play Belfast, Stars head coach Omar Pacha said: “I like our chances against Belfast and I am actually happy they picked us.
“To be honest, out of all the teams, I thought we matched-up well against them. “
After a huge pair of victories against Fife and looking ahead to the first leg, Pacha added: “It was a big four-point weekend that we had and hopefully we build on that momentum and go into Wednesday with the same mindset.”
“We are going to have a game plan, in the sense where we want to play our game and do what we have been doing in the past few weeks but we need to minimise the mistakes.
“Obviously, Belfast are top of the table and they are one of the best teams if not the best team in the league for a reason.
“So, we have to play sharp defensively, limit their chances and essentially give ourselves a chance to win the series away.
“We want to keep it tight but alternatively we want to get that lead.”
Reflecting on his side’s performances in the group stage he said: “I am really happy, we worked hard at the time to get there.
“It was a good step forward for the club and now we just have to be smart.
“We are going to see it as an opportunity to win a championship and that is a great way forward.”
Stars starting netminder Pontus Sjögren left the ice with an injury during the penalty shootout in Fife on Sunday night but if he is unavailable for the first leg, Pacha has confidence in his back-up, who came in and won the game for Dundee on Sunday.
He said: “If Pontus is not able to play then we will have to go with Sheep (Craig Holland), which we are confident of, especially the way he finished the game on Sunday but if Pontus is 100 per cent then we will obviously play him.”
Face-off is at 7:30. Tickets for tonight’s game are only £10 for adults and £5 for children, concessions and students. Tickets can be purchased online or directly from the Dundee Ice Arena box office.