And now the end is near, and so I face the final curtain………. the records show I took the blows, and did it my way.
The words may belong to Sinatra, the sentiments belong to the greatest British player of the modern era, and this weekend marks the end of that era, the Colin Shields era, and what a career it’s been.
A career that began in the old Crossmyloof Rink, south of the Clyde in the 80’s will finish in just a few short weeks with the National colours on his back, in Kosice, Slovakia, a World Championship date with destiny that has been over 20 years in the planning.
Coached as a young lad by his dad, Martin, himself a quality player, Colin turned out for the Paisley Pirates as a fresh faced 14 year old, the unfamiliar number 4 on his back. It wasn’t long before an opportunity presented itself in Canada and the highly motivated Scot answered the call.
A record-breaking two-year stint in Cleveland saw Shields come to the attention of the Philadelphia Flyers, they took the 20 year old that spring (2000) in the NHL Draft and that helped alert the storied NCAA University of Maine programme. The incumbent Head Coach, the legendary Shawn Walsh became a major influence on the rising star, but sadly he was to pass away in the early years of his Black Bear career.
An All American during his time in the blue & white Shields would turn pro straight out of college, a first season split across 3 franchises in the ECHL, but before he would go off to the ECHL Shields would again team up with the GB National squad to play at the World Championships. It is here that a retiring Colin Ward would end up reporting back to a fairly new organisation in Belfast about a speedy winger with NHL ability.
A training camp in Grand Rapids didn’t pay dividends, so come the fall he was still looking a team and a Belfast outfit coached by Ed Courtenay, featuring former NHL Superstar Theo Fleury,came calling and Shields answered. The Giants ran roughshod over the competition and a first championship was secured along with an over a point per game contribution on the scoring charts.
The following season, North America was still part of the vision and while the AHL gig never transpired, a year split between California & Idaho produced decent numbers in the Coast.
Returning to the UK, Colin picked up a job with Rob Wilson’s Newcastle Vipers. Belfast had their team completed but another successful season helped force the Giants’ hand to create roster space and bring the affable Scot to The Odyssey once again. Back to back to back 30 goal seasons along with Challenge Cup, Knock Out Cup & Playoff success partially bookend another stint with the Giants, Shields hoisting the playoff trophy as Captain before handing it over to Mr Belfast, owner Jim Gillespie, who had joined his team on the ice.
Shields then took a season in the Alps, his first foray onto mainland Europe. But it wasn’t long before he found himself back in the familiar stomping ground of the EIHL, this time however in the Orange of Sheffield. That relationship was only to last 22 games before Shields once again returned to Belfast. It was the place he would finally put down family roots, open a business and make the City his home.
Silverware followed through the years and records tumbled as he quietly went about his business. His 11th and what is to be he final season in hockey saw a nasty injury curtail his playing over the winter months but he came skating back like he’d never been away.
Colin’s comeback game saw him surpass long-time friend and former team mate, Graeme Walton, as the all-time leading appearance maker for the Belfast Giants. A number that has been pushed up to 600 and beyond. Personal milestones a plenty, almost 250 goals for Belfast, almost 400 assists, Shields has almost 300 points more than any other Giant, records are set to be aimed for and he has set the bar high.
Similar success for the national team has came in recent years, back to back Gold medals, promotion to the Worlds top group, games to come against Canada & the USA, and the personal milestone of becoming the modern eras leading scorer for the country. Surpassing Tony Hand on a crazy night at his “home rink” in Belfast.
But still the records tumbled. In January, an assist in Milton Keynes saw him surpass David Clarke as Elite Leagues All Time Top Points scorer with 732, testament to his skills, professionalism and longevity.
Sadly for the fans in Belfast, Sheds, as he is affectionately know by almost everyone bar mum Margaret, has called it a career. He felt now was the time to write a new chapter in the bulging success story that has been stretched from a wobbling enthusiastic kid in Crossymyloof in the 80’s to the greatest British player in a generation.
All the Georgie, Sheds.
Words: Davy McGimpsey
Images: William Cherry / PressEye