Legend backs Keefe’s men, insisting fans deserve such an intriguing duel
When it comes to winning Elite League titles with the Belfast Giants, Colin Shields knows a thing or two.
The Giants legend won three during his 11 seasons with the club and played an instrumental role in all of them, including a 15-goal, 50-point effort in the 2013-14 season when they romped to the title with plenty of games to spare.
This week, his former side could add another to the trophy cabinet at the SSE Arena if they can defeat one of his former employers, the Sheffield Steelers, twice at the Utilita Arena in a nerve-enducing double-header between the league’s top two sides, who also meet at the SSE Arena in seven days’ time.
Shields has plenty of history with the Steelers having played 22 games for them in the 2012-13 season before swapping orange for teal, while he duelled with them many times in title races down the years — indeed, many fans will fondly remember him seizing upon a loose pass from Ben O’Connor and tapping it into an empty net during a 5-1 win on home ice in January 2018.
As the two sides, who are only separated by one point at the top of the standings, prepare to cross swords twice more this weekend, Shields believes the tight nature of the title race is exactly what the league deserved in its first full season coming out of the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Of course I’m rooting for Belfast!” grinned the 42-year-old, who had his jersey retired by the Giants last Friday.
“It’s great to see for the league. Obviously this being the first full season back since Covid, for the Giants to be lifting the Challenge Cup and for it to come down to the wire in the league — you couldn’t have written it better.
“To have three of their last four games against each other to pretty much decide the league title is such a thrilling way to finish the season. Whoever wins two of those three I think will be the champions — I can’t see either team tripping up against the other side they have to face.
“Belfast has been on a great run recently and I’ve been following the box scores all season and I’ve been chatting to some of the guys and they say it’s such a great group and a great team, so I think they’ll get it done and I wish them all the best.
“It’s going to be a thrilling couple of weeks to finish off the year and I think the fans deserve this.”
It will be another player who has represented both the Giants and Steelers who will likely prove the prominent danger to head coach Adam Keefe’s side over the weekend, with Great Britain international Robert Dowd in sensational form.
The winger, who played one season in Belfast in the 2011-12 campaign, has scored 15 goals in his last 15 games for the Steelers — including two in last Wednesday’s 8-2 win over Manchester Storm — and has 31 for the season.
Steelers assistant coach Carter Beston-Will said after the Storm win: “We were hungry. We took it up another level. (Dowd) has had one of his better years... he was a man possessed. There was no stopping him. All year long he has brought it. This time of year everybody has upped their game a little and he is one of those guys who has done that and it has shown on the scoresheet.”
Beston-Will also confirmed Steelers netminder Barry Brust has suffered a setback in his recovery from injury, meaning the Giants will face Rok Stojanovic in both games at the weekend.