In the International Ice series, every Sunday NHL.com/sv presents articles about players and interesting questions about the world of hockey. Today we turn our eyes to one of the most interesting and unknown markets in Europe at the moment: the United Kingdom. Learn about the Belfast giants and the Elite Ice Hockey League, EIHL.
British hockey has been outside the European hockey community for a long time, but after a few years of poise, it’s back in the A-WC Championship 2019. Later in May, Great Britain plays at WC in Tampere in the same group as Tre Kronor.
The imports into the British EIHL were from Canadians and Americans, and only a handful of Swedes played there: in the past five years, ex-AIK player Yard Hajos, ex-Troja-Ljungby player Marcus Nelson, and former Malmö Andreas Andreas have named themselves the British League champions, all of which With Sheffield Steelers in the 2016-2017 season.
The league is made up of ten teams: Guildford Flames, Coventry Blaze, Manchester Storm, Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers of England, Glasgow Clan, Dandy Stars and Five Flyers of Scotland, Cardiff Devils of Wales and Northern Ireland, the Belfast Giants big team.
In the Champions Hockey League (CHL) last season, the Cardiff Devils represented the English Football League; The team won a match out of six matches and finished last in the group with Luco Rauma, Adler Mannheim and Lausanne. Next season, the Belfast Giants play in the CHL.
A team to watch.
With only a few games left to play, the Belfast Giants have already won the league championship ahead of the Steelers, two teams by a wide margin in the league. And so Belfast got the double: in March, the Giants also won the Challenge Cup after beating the Cardiff Devils in the final in front of a completely sold out circuit, 7,300 spectators.
The Giants coach is 38-year-old Canadian Adam Keefe with pasts on OHL teams such as the Sudbury Wolves and Kitchener Rangers and in AHL for Detroit’s grandfather’s Grand Rapids Griffins. And if the nickname is recognizable, it’s because Adam Keefe’s four-year-old brother Sheldon Keefe is the Toronto Maple Leafs coach in the NHL.
Adam Keefe has lived and played in Belfast for eleven years, since 2017 as coach of the team.
– When I came here I knew nothing of Belfast. The great thing about The Giants is that the club really takes the time to educate you about the city and the responsibilities of those who play here. We don’t play for any team, we have a responsibility to represent the whole of Belfast because we know what giants mean to the people here.
– When I come here I was surprised; Hockey in Ireland? Now we don’t even have to sell the Belfast Giants, says Adam How. The players want to come here.
Belfast has turned the British hockey world upside down – today the Giants attract more crowds to their matches than the city’s football team. In a religiously divided city, the Giants came in December 2000 as a unifying agent – around the team bringing together people of all faiths.
The Guardian summed up the Giants’ entry into the sporting world in Belfast by saying: “Ice hockey was so new and so weird that it didn’t carry with it any of the traditional hurdles that burden other sports. The team would represent all of Belfast. Giants fans were quick to tell everyone that “With giants, everyone is equal” and in a sport known for a certain brutality, the hockey stadium was quickly established as one of the most family-friendly places in town.
Robert Fitzpatrick, who grew up in Northern Ireland, is the CEO of the company that owns Team Giants. The team’s success is illustrated as follows:
“From the beginning, the Giants have been a welcoming place for everyone,” Fitzpatrick told the newspaper. And I mean everyone: Protestants, Catholics, LGBT people, it doesn’t matter who they are. Everyone is equal. Our color is green-blue (teal, like San Jose Sharks, our note) and plays a powerful role in our identity. Football shirts were never allowed in the ring. If we see a little boy or girl in a soccer jersey, we give them a T-shirt of the giants. Now we have whole families, generations here in town, like our fans.
This year, five Swedes have played in a total of ten teams in the Premier League: defenders Jonas Emerdal and Eric Nslund at the bottom of the Five Flyers, goalkeeper Kevin Lindskoog at Guildford Flames and striker Edwin Hedberg in the Nottingham Panthers classic. And striker Sebastian Bengtson in one of the Scottish League teams, Dundee Stars. With 57 points (27 + 30) in 49 games, Bengson finished second in internal scoring for Dundee and in the top ten in the entire league. The 27-year-old from Stockholm Bengtsson grew up playing hockey in Djurgården but took the road to Dundee via Hodinge, Vargstad and Södertälje.
It was the Canadian players signed for the Giants’ first season who established an interest in hockey, something so unknown in Belfast that the club had to carefully explain the rules of the sport in every program paper.
The team that won the doubles included ten Canadians, four Americans and ten players with British passports – nine of them from Northern Ireland.
Goalkeeper Andrew Dixon, 34, grew up in Ballymoni, outside Belfast. He got in touch with hockey through a friend who visited Philadelphia. The new insight led to a video game and inline hockey when Andrew was 17 years old. Three years later, he made his debut for the Belfast City Bruins, and at the age of twenty it was time to make his first game for the Belfast Giants. Dixon is the third clear goalkeeper behind Canadians Tyler Pescorwany and Jackson Wessel, and the latter holds British citizenship.
But this is the example that is more significant in the career of Andrew Dixon.
I’ve loved playing this sport from the start and always had this fear of eventually being seen. But I’m still there, and I hope to be able to inspire a guy or a girl not just from Belfast but from anywhere in Northern Ireland, to the dream of once playing with the Giants.
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