He was the quiet man of the Giants’ ‘D’ who shied away from the limelight.
In the early noughties, as the Odyssey Arena in Belfast rocked to 8,500 capacity crowds each and every time the Giants played at home, Rob Stewart was the calm, experienced and composed figure on the ice.
Paxton Schulte, Kevin Riehl, Jeff Hoad and Rod Stevens may have been the big name performers in those days but veteran Stewart was coach Dave Whistle’s dependable figure on the blueline.
On Tuesday night, though, Stewart will be the headline act at the Odyssey Arena, when the Giants roll back the years as their former stars return for a special night in tribute to their reliable defenceman who, of course, also went on to coach the team and in recent times, has acted as assistant coach.
Schulte, Riehl, Hoad, Colin Ward, Steve Thornton, Mark Cavallin, Jason Bowen, Shane Johnson and Todd Kelman will all lace up their skates once again to take on the current Giants outfit.
Coach Whistle, Stewart’s best pal, has even intimated he plans to play rather than just be a resident on the bench.
Mark Morrison, Graeme Walton, Gareth Martin, Paul Sample, Leigh Jamieson, Robbie Sandrock, Nathan Craze, Craig Peacock and Colin Shields will make up the Giants Legends team.
“Tuesday is going to be a very special night for me and hopefully all Giants fans,” says
Stewart who won numerous League and Play-off titles over a five year period in Belfast.
“I really think this will be the last time you get all these former Giants on the ice together and certainly I believe it will be the last time you’ll have the six players who have their shirts retired at the Odyssey Arena.”
Stewart’s No.16 shirt hangs high above the Odyssey ice along with the shirts of Schulte, Ward, Johnson, Kelman and Walton.
“I’m honoured that so many of my team-mates are returning to Belfast for this game. It’s a long way to come from north America — an eight or nine hour flight in some cases — so I really do appreciate it, admits Stewart.
“But I’m also taking Robbie Sandrock, Craig Peacock and Colin Shields on my team. They played enough with me to warrant a place on my team.
“It should be a lot of fun and I’m not only looking forward to playing with my former team-mates again but also catching up with them away from the ice.”
The biggest draw on Tuesday is likely to be former Giants favourite Schulte.
Schulte, who was the enforcer at the Odyssey between 2000-2005, arrived in Belfast on Thursday and has been catching up with old friends.
“Paxton and Colin have obviously come over before but there are some players like Kevin Riehl, and Jeff Hoad who haven’t been back since they left Belfast.
“And Whis will be back and he’s told me he wants to play.”
Stewart has a number of key sponsors to make Tuesday night’s match take place — IES, ISolutions and Product Earth Solutions — and he’s also indebted to the Kingdom of the Giants web forum who raised £1,000 to bring Riehl and Schulte over from Canada.
“There are some Giants fans who haven’t been to the Odyssey since the days of Paxton Schulte and Kevin Riehl so this will be a great occasion for them to return,” adds Stewart.
“The Giants have a terrific following at the minute but I’m sure there are a few who weren’t coming when we started back in 2000 so they’ll get to see some Giants legends.
“Those were special days, we had a great team and we progressed into a Championship and Play-off winning team. We also competed in the Continental Cup in Lugano, Switzerland and those are terrific memories.”
Tickets for Rob Stewart’s Testimonial on Tuesday night can be purchased from Ticketmaster or Odyssey Box Office — Adults £12, Concession £10, Child (under-16) £7, Family (2A-2C) £35.