Giants Launch 20th Anniversary Season In Style

Words: Joel Neill

In what feels like the blink of an eye summer has passed and the familiar faces, sights and sounds of the SSE Arena filled the senses once again on Thursday night, as the Belfast Giants officially heralded in their 20th Anniversary season with an open practice session in front of an eager home crowd.

The cynical voices who dismissed professional hockey in Belfast as a passing fad at the turn of the millenium echoed in my head as I walked past a long queue of fans, snaking its way down the main entrance path of the arena from 6.00pm- long before the team was due on ice.

Inside, the busy main entrance and concourses buzzed with handshakes, hugs, smiles and greetings as the Teal Army reassembled from their various corners of Northern Ireland and the world.

The Official Supporters Club raced around with membership forms and pens, fans clamoured to get their hands on new season merchandise and their long awaited season tickets, Simon Kitchen paraded an iPad around- stating that we were “not going to lose the CHL Fan Challenge to the Cardiff Devils” (sign up now), and Trust CEO Robert Fitzpatrick shook hands and remarked in wide eyed amazement about the new faces in Belfast for 2019/20.

It might have been the shortest offseason in recent memory… but by god, it was good to be back.

Inside the arena the South tier was packed with an astonishing 2000 fans for what was essentially a light team workout.

New faces were warmly welcomed along with the remaining core of last year’s champions, including one Jean Dupuy who had only just landed into Belfast that day to complete this year’s roster.

Excited chatter rippled around the arena at the prospect of watching players like the lightning fast (LIGHTNING. FAST.) Patryk Wronka, monster signing Liam Reddox and headline grabber Bobby Farnham.

Former Fife Flyers goaltender Shane Owen also took to Belfast ice in Giants colours for the first time. Well… mostly. (They’re in the post).

All new 20th anniversary colours were unveiled, before Head Coach Adam Keefe and his Assistants Rob Stewart and Jeff Mason put the squad through their paces- their second team practice of the day.

Physically, the team looked in peak condition. Mark ‘Benjamin Button’ Garside, in his testimonial year with the club, has literally never looked younger. Kevin Raine appears to have returned with the physique of a WWE wrestler. But none more striking than Jordan Smotherman- the fan favourite forward reportedly dropping 30lbs in the offseason.

Following practice, the team assembled in McCool’s Bar on the arena concourse to pose for photos and sign autographs, and suddenly the realisation hit me.

This team of familiar old heroes alongside new are mere days away from the puck dropping on one of the most demanding, and potentially most exciting, seasons in recent memory.

35 weeks for this club to write history once again, just as it has done for 19 years so far.

Who’s ready?



Simon Kitchen dropped by morning practice on Thursday for a chat with some of the squad and Equipment Manager Jason ‘Taff’ Ellery ahead of last night’s season launch and this weekend’s pre-season games against Mora IK:


Words: Joel Neill
Audio: Simon Kitchen / AVFTB
Images/Video: Joel Neill / AVFTB / Belfast Giants

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