UK teams may be seen as the underdogs in European ice hockey’s top contest, but the Belfast Giants took a 5-4 win against Czech side Liberec in their first ever Champions Hockey League clash.
Thursday night’s game saw Adam Keefe’s side draw first blood with a goal exactly two minutes into what was to prove a tough, physical encounter.
- VIDEO: Belfast Giants scorer Bobby Farnham on that 'feisty' opening CHL game
Bobby Farnham opened the scoring for the hosts, to the delight of the vocal home crowd.
Liberec - who were semi-finalists in 2017 - found an equaliser through Libor Hudacek, but a rebound opportunity allowed Patryk Wronka to find the net and the Giants retook the lead.
Ronald Knot’s goal for the visitors meant the sides were all square heading into the first break, but the second period saw the Giants forge ahead again.
Patrick Mullen proved invaluable, putting in some great work to find Brian Ward who supplied the finish and made it 3-2 to Belfast.
A huge hit from Matt Pelech proved the latest player to captain the Giants would not be found lacking when it came to the physical side of the game – although, the referees did run the risk of losing control of the game more than once as tensions boiled over.
During that middle period of action, Giants defenceman Jesse Forsberg was forced off injured and will have to be assessed before their next game.
Liberec then capitalised when the Giants’ Bobby Farnham controversially ended up in the penalty box – Hudacek scored his second goal of the night seconds into his team’s power play.
The Giants lost another defenceman to a fighting penalty when Kevin Raine dropped the gloves with Liberec’s Jan Ordos in yet another feisty display.
Given how the game was going, it was perhaps less surprising than it should have been that Curtis Hamilton scoring the Giants’ fourth goal of the game sparked another brawl that saw the Liberec captain Petr Jelinek ejected.
In the third period, Mullen and Ward combined again for another Belfast goal – Ward supplying the tip-in to give his side a two-goal cushion for the first time.
But there was no let-up on the nerves of the home fans.
Liberec were awarded a penalty shot, only for Giants netminder Shane Owen to pull off the save.
However, the visitors were not done yet and they scored with just 28.9 seconds left on the clock to make for a very tense finish.
The Giants held out for the win and their SSE Arena home erupted at the final buzzer.
Head coach Adam Keefe and his players were in agreement that the incredible home atmosphere had played its part in spurring them on and they are hoping for an even bigger turn-out for Saturday.
The weekend game will see the Belfast Giants host German side Augsburger Panther, with face-off again at 7.30pm.