New Belfast Giants coach Doug Christiansen looks ahead
Doug Christiansen is looking forward to the challenge of taking over at the Belfast Giants
By Paul Gilmour
BBC Sport NI
As one of the most promising young coaches in British ice hockey, Doug Christiansen is an exciting coup for the Belfast Giants.
Fresh from being named coach of the year after a respectable sixth place finish with the Edinburgh Capitals, the 31-year-old will call the Odyssey Arena his home next season after replacing outgoing play-off winning coach Steve Thornton.
"It was a tough decision after spending three years at Edinburgh," said Christiansen.
"There is different pressure in Belfast because there is a vision to win a championship, but I believe in myself.
"I am going to rely on my work ethic and preparation and that will translate into success. The Giants fans are going to come to the Odyssey every game expecting a win and so do I."
Christiansen knows all about the impact the man he replaces had in Belfast.
"Steve Thornton did a wonderful job. He was a class act in helping me make the transition and I know it was a tough decision for him to go back.
Thornton guided the Giants to three trophies during his two years in charge
"I think we have similar styles. He won three trophies in two seasons which is more than any other coach in this league."
One of his first challenges as Giants coach will be to attract players.
He has already signed Great Britain international Mark Garside from Edinburgh with other Capitals players rumoured to be joining, namely Simon Lambert and Owen Fussey.
"I think both would make good Giants. They have to make career decisions. It would be a pleasure to coach them again," added Christiansen.
"They bring a lot to a team so adding them to the Giants is something we might try to do, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were others."
Edinburgh Capitals punched above their weight under Christiansen, qualifying for the Elite League Play-offs for the first time in 2007/08 with a small budget.
Last season they finished sixth with a record franchise points total despite being plagued with injuries, including Christiansen himself who suffered a shattered kneecap.
Doug Christiansen spent three years with Edinburgh Capitals
The difference in Belfast will be that the American has a significantly bigger budget to work with.
"This time we may be able to attract higher profile players. It is not all about spending, it's about getting the best value players and if we can do that I'm confident we can have a good season."
At 31, Christiansen is still able to do a job on the ice so will he be registering as a player for the Giants?
"My job is to win hockey games and I am going to do whatever it takes to do that," he says confidently.
"If that means I have to dress occasionally then that's what I am going to do. Todd Kelman and Jim Gillespie were clear with what they want me to be and that is an injury cover.
"I am going to be a bench coach but if we do get injuries it is nice to have the option."
Jeff Szwez has had a terrific season at the Odyssey scoring 36 goals and supplying 22 assists but it's not good news for the new coach.
I want a team that works hard, a team that shows up every night and competes
"I don't think we'll have the opportunity to keep Jeff Szwez. He is such a quality player and there will be demand for him. There are some players I am in talks with about trying to retain but when a team has success others will want your best players."
Giants veteran Shane Johnson retired at the end of last season while Mark Morrison and George Awada are tipped to move on.
One player Christiansen is determined to keep is Brandon Benedict.
"He's a star player who skates extremely well and works hard.
"If we can keep him it will be a real coup for us."
Christiansen may only have been here a matter of weeks but is aware the Belfast fans like to be entertained.
That role fell to Sean 'the Sheriff' McMorrow but his season was cut short to face drugs charges in Canada, an accusation he strongly denies.
"I have not spoken to him," said the new coach.
"I think the situation is out of our hands and I wish him all the best. The issue with Sean will come up at the end of May and we will have a much better understanding of were he is at."
Christiansen wants to retain Rob Stewart as a coach and will also consider having a player assistant. Colin Shields is the early favourite to be captain.
So what does Christiansen expect from his new team?
"I want a team that works hard, a team that shows up every night and competes. People respect work ethic.
"I'm very hands on, I enjoy what I do. Some guys need a kick, others need cuddling, but understanding your players is an important aspect of coaching."
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