Twelve years ago, as a fresh faced 18-year-old, Colin Shields packed his bags and left his Glasgow home to chase the dream of making it in the NHL.
Although the odds were stacked against him — plenty of Scandanavians and eastern Europeans had successfully climbed the ladder to the top ice hockey league in the world — Shields was prepared to give it a crack.
Goals were easy to come by during a season with the Cleveland Barons in the NAHL and Shields impressed sufficiently to be picked by the Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 NHL draft — 195th out of 293 players selected. Sean McMorrow was also drafted in the same year.
On Saturday night, a decade after taking a step towards achieving that dream which prompted his flight across the Atlantic, Shields will be wearing a Belfast Giants shirt — the closest he’s ever going to get to an NHL appearance.
He will lead the Belfast Giants Select team — which amounts to an Elite League All Star team — when they face one of the biggest teams on the planet, the Boston Bruins.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the NHL, the Bruins are one of the six founding members of the league and are ‘A list’ when it comes to ice hockey.
While they may not be a Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester United, it is akin to the likes of AC Milan, Ajax or Bayern Munich coming to play an Irish League team.
“I was excited when I first heard that the Boston Bruins were coming to Belfast,” said Shields.
“Just to get to see them skate would be great, but since I was told that I am going to be playing in the game, I’ve been really looking forward to it.
“For any player in our league — very few of them have NHL experience — to get the chance to play against an NHL team is a huge thing.
“It’s a real once in a lifetime opportunity.”
The fact that Shields was even drafted by an NHL club puts him in a group that includes his fellow Scot Tony Hand — drafted in 1986 by the Edmonton Oilers — as the only two British players ever to earn a draft pick.
Regarded as one of the best players in the Elite League, Shields is ready for what will be a unique occasion at the Odyssey on Saturday.
“The game against the Bruins will be a lot different to what we’re used to in this league,” he added.
“It will be played at a great pace and it will be much faster than anything anyone has seen at the Odyssey before.
“They are in their pre-season, but are only 10 days away from playing their first game so guys will be looking to get ready for the regular season and they’ll be taking things pretty seriously.
“A lot of players in our league could have made the team. It’s a chance for us to showcase our league and a real privilege to get to play.”It’s also something that I’ll always remember.”