Belfast Telegraph

Belfast Giants Stewart deserved his night under the spotlight

Stuart McKinley

THERE have been many special nights in the history of the Belfast Giants. Over the last 14 years there have been league title triumphs, Cup victories and Play-off success.

There was even a Presidential visit from Bill Clinton and nobody who was there will ever forget the first ever match at the Odyssey – though it ended in a defeat to the Ayr Scottish Eagles.

Rob Stewart has been there from the start, playing a part in all of those occasions.

It was only right that finally the man who has been happy to fade into the background while others enjoyed the limelight finally got to take centre stage on his own special night.

And this one was just as special as all the rest.

The night when not only was Rob Stewart honoured with a well deserved testimonial, it also saw many of the most famous names in the Belfast Giants' past take to the Odyssey ice at the same times as the modern day heroes, fresh from clinching the Elite League title just 48 hours previously.

The 20-10 win for the Legends team won't dent the current team's confidence too much as they go for a trophy treble.

A night to celebrate Stewart's career and also one of nostalgia for the club itself.

As the man who transcends every era of the Giants, Stewart was able to have his pick of players when assembling his legends team, even ahead of current coach Paul Adey.

The line-up of Stewart himself, his closest friend, former coach Dave Whistle and ex-players Paxton Schulte, Kevin Riehl, Steve Thornton, Colin Ward, Jason Bowen, Graeme Walton, Jeff Hoad, Mark Cavallin, Shane Johnson, Paul Sample, Leigh Jamieson, Nathan Craze, Colin Shields, Rob Sandrock, Craig Peacock, Todd Kelman and Mark Morrison more than did the occasion justice.

Between them, that list of stars made over 4,300 appearances in Giants colours and collected a combined total of 50 medals along the way.

Each of those trophy wins was special, but when it comes to enjoyment, last night topped that.

Whistle donned his skates, Colin Ward played with a smile on his face, as he did during four seasons as a Giant and despite not having played competitively for eight or nine years, Kevin Riehl and Jeff Hoad showed that they still have it.

And there was also the obligatory testimonial 'fight' as enforcer of old Paxton Schulte took on current hardman Adam Keefe.

Belfast's own Giants Graeme Walton and Mark Morrison also had a part. At the birth of the Giants in 2000 the likelihood of Northern Ireland-born players turning out was remote, but under Stewart's coaching it happened and local men have their names etched in history too.

The five original Giants, who all have their jerseys retired, Stewart, Schulte, Ward, Shane Johnson and Todd Kelman were all on the ice together at the same time too – a unique occurrence – to make it an even more special night.

Stewart is the final link between the Giants early years and the present day, and his own personal big night also marked the entire history of the team.

"It's a very special night for me," said Stewart. "I had great times with all of these players, we won a lot of things together and I have some wonderful memories, so to have them all back was fantastic.

"I would have been delighted if I could have put that team on the ice when I was coach. I think we could have won the league even earlier than we did."

"It was great to have my former team-mates and friends as well as my family here and I hope the fans had a great time."

On one of the most memorable nights in Belfast Giants history, there can be no doubt that was the case.

Belfast Telegraph

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