By Kris Smith
The Kitmart Dundee Stars round off 2018 with a trip to Belfast Giants in search of their first win in Northern Ireland this season.
League leaders Belfast and eighth place Dundee have already met eight times this season. Stars have won two of the four Elite League ties but lost all of their Challenge Cup matches against the current cup-holders.
With Dundee coming off the back of their first defeat to local rivals Fife Flyers, Omar Pacha is plotting a return to winning ways this weekend. Meanwhile, Belfast started their weekend well with a 5-1 home victory over Milton Keynes Lightning on Friday night. Goals from Lewis Hook, Darcy Murphy and a Blair Riley hat-trick lifted the Giants past the Lightning. Milton Keynes’ only goal came from Cole Shudra in the third period.
Adam Keefe’s men were on the right side of a 5-4 score line on Saturday night, as they seen off the visiting Glasgow Clan. Braces from Dustin Johner and David Rutherford plus a single goal from Murphy was enough to win the points against a Clan side that had taken a 3-0 lead in the Northern Irish capital.
David Rutherford leads the Giants in points with 39 from 30 games after scoring 11 goals and assisting on 28 more. Dundee are led by François Bouchard with 12 goals and 15 assists from 32 matches.
Belfast’s Francis Beauvillier left the club to peruse an opportunity outside of hockey and Keefe brought in a familiar face to fill his spot. Chris Higgins was brought back to Belfast for a fourth season.
Matt Bissonnette was the only player missing from Dundee’s squad during their mid-week double header against Fife Flyers. Bissonnette is doubtful to feature this weekend but Omar Pacha hopes to have him back in the line-up after New Year. In their last match, Giants had six players from their roster missing but still came back to beat Glasgow.
Dundee Stars defender, Mike Sullivan says the team knows the importance of collecting points in the second half of the season as every point could be vital come April.
He said:“It’s key to get our rest both physically and mentally.
“The last two games were emotional to say the least and we are going to use the days before our next game to prepare for whatever the game gives us.
“Every game is significant in the idea that every point is crucial.
“That is why we need to be the best version of ourselves during every game.
“Because at any point of this second half, a make-or-break point towards the standings could be on the line.
“It will take a well-balanced game for us to be successful against Belfast.
“They are at the top of the standings for a reason, as they bring it every night.
“Our goal is to be sound systematically and execute plays at a high level from the first puck drop.”
The Canadian born Italian insists a disciplined approach against an offensive Giants side will be key to getting a positive result.
Sullivan added: “I think it will be important to limit Belfast’s time of possession in the offensive zone.
“They have plenty of skill from top to bottom who are able to make plays happen if given time.
“They have a strong power play as well, so discipline in our system, and in our overall gamewill be a necessity.”
Face-off is at 7pm on Sunday.