Thornton: “Our Expectations In Belfast Will Never Change “

Steve Thornton, the Stena Line Belfast Giants Head of Hockey Operations, has set out his expectation of winning trophies for the 2016/17 Giants team with recruitment well underway for the new season.

Following a season that saw the organisation finish six points behind the Elite League winners, lose in the Challenge Cup Semi-Final and miss out on the end-of-season Playoff Finals, Thornton will make changes in order to bring a ninth major title to Belfast,

“When you set expectations at the beginning of the season of winning a trophy and you do not come home with one – you have to take a look back and I do think there was more in the tank for us.”

Although the Giants finished the season in fourth place, they had three players in the ‘Top 20’ goalscoring standings, worked their way to three points behind the league leaders with only six games to play and narrowly missed out on a place in the Challenge Cup Final. It is clear that coming close to silverware last season is a motivating factor ahead of the 2016/17 season, “There were a lot of positives – a lot of guys had good seasons and we were 2/3 wins away from winning the league,” said Thornton. ”It makes us more motivated for next season and the expectations here in Belfast will never change – we want silverware.”

Although the off-season is only a few days old, Thornton has already been working for some time with Head Coach Derrick Walser on recruiting a team that will compete on all fronts in the 2016/17 season.

“It started months ago,” confirmed Thornton. “Throughout the whole season you are monitoring the guys you have, players around the league and then trying to find an equation that will work and make you better – because the league is getting better and we need to be ahead of the curve and not behind it.”

Like all other Elite League teams, Giants fans have experienced ups and downs over the years as well as seen many different players come and go from Belfast and it is clear what kind of team is currently being recruited for Giants Season #17, “I think speed is the key. Speed kills and we were missing it at times this year and our team, in general, needed more commitment,” Thornton added. “We were pretty team to watch but I thought we were a bit perimeter so we need to get a bit more gritty.”

Derrick Walser’s first season in coaching was combined with playing and saw him post eight goals and 40 assists – good for 48 points in 54 games, the fourth highest points by a Defenceman. The 2016/17 season will be the first time the Giants have had a coach in place for consecutive seasons since 2012/13 and Thornton believes that consistency along with Walser’s experience will benefit the organisation moving forward,

“The learning curve for him is done. He knows the league, he knows the players and he has an idea of who he wants and it can be his team. We are having constant chats everyday about what he wants his lineup to look like to give him the best chance to win and that is what I need to do. He is a big believer in team speed and that’s what we are looking for.”

“We will be starting in a better position because we have a good core of guys in place, however changes are still needed as, when you do not win a trophy, you have to make changes to help us progress and move forward.”

The expectations for the 2016/17 season have already been set for the team that is currently being assembled and Steve Thornton reiterated the need to have a successful team on the ice in Belfast, “We need to win,” reiterated Thornton. “Without a doubt the fans here in Belfast and the Odyssey Trust expect to have a winning team. Our fans deserve to be entertained and we will expect our guys to come here and win.”

With just under 20 weeks to go until the puck drops for the 17th season of the Stena Line Belfast Giants, make sure to keep a check on our official website as well as Twitter and Facebook for all the latest news, including players signings and interviews!

Listen to the full interview with Steve Thornton:

Photo: Andy Gibson

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