By Kris Smith
The Stars will raise the curtain on the 2023-2024 Elite League regular season tonight with a Challenge Cup Group A clash at the SSE Arena, as they meet the current holders of the Challenge Cup, league and playoff titles.
Marc LeFebvre’s men have just finished a two-week long training camp, which saw them play four exhibition games and come away with two victories as they split a double header against their biggest rivals, Fife Flyers and defeated Romanian side, MSC Corona Brasov 7-3 before falling 2-1 to Dutch club, Tilburg Trappers.
On form early for the Stars has been returning captain, Drydn Dow with the veteran defender tallying four assists, whilst forwards, Ryan Valentini (1G, 3A) and Johnny Walker (2G, 2A) also accumulated four points in as many games.
Meanwhile, the Giants have been together for a lot longer as they had to prepare for the Champions Hockey League and so far, they have won just two of the eight games they have played.
After a pair of one-goal defeats to Cardiff, Belfast then lost their opening three European games before beating Italian outfit, HC Bolzano 4-0 and then Glasgow Clan 5-2 in Scotland in a friendly contest, which saw the Clan hit back for a 3-1 victory in Northern Ireland.
The last time the Stars and Giants met, was in the final regular season game of last year and it would be Dundee’s first win over Belfast all season as they secured a 9-2 victory in a dead rubber tie.
Since then, former Stars Head Coach, Jeff Mason has re-joined the Giants and following him was American forward, Elijiah Barriga after he led the Tayside team in scoring last campaign.
However, Barriga has been ruled out for the season with an injury that requires surgery and he will be unlikely to get the chance to suit up against his former club, this year.
Looking ahead to his first competitive fixture of his second spell at the helm, Stars Head Coach, LeFebvre discussed how his side’s preseason preparations went and what it will take to make a winning start to their season.
He said: “I thought we were in consistent but you expect that because its preseason and nothing is going to be perfect all the time.
“You also have to be realistic with some things as well, for some of these guys this is their first time in Europe and their first time playing in this group as well, so it is a work in progress.
“Overall we had a great few weeks of training and now we are ready for the real thing.”
He continued: “Belfast set the benchmark for everyone, last season as they won all three trophies, so it will be a good first test for us to see where we are at as a club and it will be a good challenge for us because they want to win all three trophies again.
“They have been going for a while with playing Champions League games and other friendlies, so I am just looking for a complete effort from everyone all weekend and we just have to grind them down and try to come out with as many points as possible.
“We just have to go in there and win, it is as simple as that, we just have to grind out a victory on the road and especially in a tough building like that but we know to expect, so we will be ready and we are looking forward to the challenge.”
Knowing what it takes to win against the Giants, Stars Captain Drydn Dow then added: “Belfast are always a strong team so you have to play your best game, obviously it is our first competitive game, so we are excited to get going and put our best foot forward.
“We just need to play a simple game and try to make sure we get the puck in behind their defence and force them to play in their zone, then grind them down.
“They are obviously a very skilled team, so we have to be at our best for the whole 60-minutes.”
Face-off for both tonight’s game in Belfast and is at 7pm.