The Kitmart Dundee Stars have a chance to hold onto the top spot in their Challenge Cup group when they visit the Belfast Giants tonight.

By Kris Smith

The Stars travel to Northern Ireland as they take on Belfast in their first meeting of this season with the Elite League and Challenge cup champions.

Dundee sit atop of Group A after back to back wins over Glasgow Clan but a defeat at home to their main rivals, Fife Flyers ended their hopes of going unbeaten.

Now they have a big opportunity to strengthen their pole position with a second road victory.

Belfast got their domestic campaign underway last week, but they have already made an impressive start in Europe as they caused an upset by winning their inaugural Champions Hockey League match.

Last weekend saw Adam Keefe’s men thrash the Clan 6-1 in the cup and that has them primed to make a charge up the standings.

However, a 2-1 overtime loss in Manchester may have upset the Giants rhythm.

Meanwhile, Stars head coach Omar Pacha has been building off the positives of the previous two home games to prepare his side for this weekend’s clashes.

Looking ahead to the weekend the Stars boss said: “Hopefully we can build off of last Sunday’s third period and some spurts of the game against Sheffield.

“I thought against Sheffield we were really good at points during the game, now it is just maintaining that consistency and I think we will be fine.

“Also, to be fair I think that since the start of the year we saw spurts that were really good and we saw spurts where we got away from what we are good at and that’s when other teams were successful.”

After focusing on defensive work in training this week Pacha believes his side are close to reaching their potential performance level.

He added: “There are some defensive aspects of our game we need to be better at.

“We are not that far away, its just we need to click as a team and that will help if we are playing the structure well.

“It’s still early doors, we have a lot of new players, so sometimes repetition is the best thing and we are just going to try and do that and I think we will be successful.”

With Reilly O’Connor out of action, Dundee will be a player short at the back and that calls for smarter play, according to the Canadian.

Omar said: “I think we are a bit short on the backend so we have to make sure we play a bit smarter than we did over last weekend but we go into every game wanting to win.

“So there is no difference for Saturday, hopefully we can see improvements from last week in certain areas where we needed to improve.”

Stars forward, Egils Kalns scored twice last weekend but he and his teammates were left disappointed after not completing the comeback in any of the two games.

He said: “It is always fun to score goals and when we got it back to 3-1 against Nottingham it gave us a little motivation but, in the end,, we lost the game.

“We were disappointed that we could not turn the game around but on Sunday we were down and we kept battling and showed the character that we have in the team.

“In the third period we dominated them and we had a lot of chances but we just could not bury them, it was tough to lose in overtime but we just have to keep battling.

“We just need to go day by day, keeping yourself motivated and you have to keep working hard.

“If you take little steps and do the right things, the results will come.”

The Latvian winger knows that the Stars are in for a difficult test in Belfast.

He added: “This weekend I think we should focus on our own game and keep the plays simple and don’t over think the little things.

“If we play our game then I’m confident we will win but I have no doubt they will be tough games but we have to do our best to win these games.”

The Giants have a packed schedule due to their early European matches and there may be a chance for Dundee to take advantage of some early fatigue believes Kalns.

He said: “Belfast have a busy schedule and there is maybe a chance for us to take advantage of that.

“In this league, there is a lot of travel, most teams have a long journey up here but we also have long trips down there.

“We just need to not think about the travel and stay focused on the game.”

Face-off for tonight’s away match is 7pm.

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