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exclusive Belfast Giants captain David Goodwin: My heart still lies in Northern Ireland, I had to come back for another season


Belfast Giants captain David Goodwin receives the Elite League trophy from EIHL Director of Hockey Operations Mike Hicks (Dean Woolley)

Belfast Giants captain David Goodwin receives the Elite League trophy from EIHL Director of Hockey Operations Mike Hicks (Dean Woolley)

Belfast Giants captain David Goodwin receives the Elite League trophy from EIHL Director of Hockey Operations Mike Hicks (Dean Woolley)

The Belfast Giants may add an agent’s fee onto Ciaran Long’s wage this season given the role that his wedding played in bringing captain David Goodwin back to the club for a third season.

It was while the American winger was back in Northern Ireland for his team-mate’s nuptials to then-fiancee, now-wife Hannah earlier this month that the clouds over his status for next season began to clear and he knew that his future still lay in Belfast.

"Being around Laker, Longer, Hooky, Laura Small, Taff... I was just like I gotta come back. This is my place, these are my people. I was walking around Titanic Quarter, Cathedral Quarter, making the rounds, and it just felt right,” recalls Goodwin with a grin.

After the Giants’ agonising Play-Off Final defeat to the Cardiff Devils back in April, speaking in the immediate aftermath Goodwin conceded he would need time to consider his options before deciding whether or not to sign the contract on offer for the 2022/23 campaign. Normally that’s a go-to response for players wanting to keep their cards close to their chest but, in the the 30-year-old’s case, it was accurate.

Head coach Adam Keefe and head of hockey operations made no secret they wanted him to stick around and lead the team for another year, not just for his leadership qualities but also the fact he had formed the deadliest line in the entire Elite League the previous season with J.J. Piccinich and Scott Conway.

With 28 goals and 81 points in 64 games in all competitions last season – and 43 goals and 110 points in 98 career games for the Giants – Goodwin is not a player on the decline, either, and his role when he does come back to Belfast will surely once again be as a top-six scoring forward.

And yet it was never guaranteed he would be back, despite the exploits in the 2021/22 campaign. In fact, he got so close to hanging up the skates that the St Louis native had a few interviews for non-hockey jobs once he returned to the States as he explored all the options available to him.

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But the underlying truth was he wasn’t quite done with Belfast.

"I did want to take a few weeks before I made that decision. Once the dust settled, it was clear my heart still lay in Belfast. As time went on and last season got more in the rear-view mirror, I began to get that itch again,” adds Goodwin.

"I had the chance to get coffee with (head of hockey operations) Steve (Thornton) and Keefer (head coach Adam Keefe) and talk about the vision they had, and they were very clear that they still saw me as part of the puzzle in Belfast. Just the idea of being able to build off what we did last year was very exciting. Last season, almost a perfect season, and I would like to win more games for the Giants and bring more trophies to Belfast.

“When it came down to it, in many ways it was a no-brainer. Ultimately I was able to say that going back to Belfast was the right opportunity for me. Not that those (interview) opportunities weren't good, just back in Belfast was the right fit for me.”

As much as Belfast is the right fit for Goodwin, the winger is the right fit for Belfast, too. It was telling that he was quick to come back to the Giants post-Covid having played for the team in the shortened 2019/20 campaign before heading to Poland’s Cracovia Krakow during the 2020/21 season when the Elite League was inactive because of the virus.

His comeback proved to be a masterstroke for player and team. The American is one of the Elite League’s premium scorers, and should continue to be next season, while he is also one of those players who gets what it means to be a Giant beyond the confines of the rink as well.

It was a big reason why he was named captain last season and will retain the ‘C’ for next season – his impact within the community is what the team's long-standing ethos represents. This is a signing that not only reflects the organisation’s on-ice ambitions, but also their off-ice responsibility.

"I'm not signing back in Belfast for one specific reason,” continues Goodwin.

"The Giants, first and foremost, are a well run organisation. I've always been treated well. Keefer and Thornts do an amazing job at looking after players and making us feel appreciated and providing a professional atmosphere. The SSE is an amazing place to play hockey, it's an amazing arena, the locker room's good.

"The city of Belfast, the people, the culture – it's good craic! People are friendly. It's almost like a second home to me now. I've never said that about any other place I've played up to now, but when I'm there I'm very comfortable.

"A big thing for me is I have my life with the Giants and my team-mates, and I have a great relationship with those guys, but I also have my friendships with people outside of the Giants. I have different communities, different friend groups around the city that makes me feel more comfortable that it's not just all about the Giants when I'm there.”

Next season will not be exactly the same for Goodwin as last time out. For a start, he will have at least one new line-mate after Piccinich’s departure to Norwegian side Stjernen Hockey, while centre Conway’s return is also not guaranteed as he has yet to show his hand for the upcoming campaign as well.

On Piccinich’s departure, Goodwin says: “When I saw he'd signed in Norway I was obviously sad. He's a great player and a great team-mate but, more importantly, he's a great friend. From a team perspective that's a big hole to fill, right? But I'm confident Keefer and Thornts will do a great job at filling Picc's shoes.”

The logistics of the season will be different, too. The most obvious difference is that the Giants will start their schedule slightly earlier than the rest of the Elite League due to their involvement in the Champions League as a reward for being league champions, while they are now the team with the target on their backs as double winners in 21/22.

Even though last season was nearly perfect, though, there will be that desire to go one better next time around. As much as the play-offs can be, to put it bluntly, a lottery given they consist of four games at most, the frustration of coming so close to completing the rare domestic treble will have lasted.

“I don't view it as unfinished business. Of course it would have been amazing to complete the treble but, as I prepare for next season, I don't think of it as unfinished business,” counters Goodwin.

"I'm very confident we're going to have a very competitive team and we will be in the mix for trophies. Will it be one? Two? Three? We'll see. But I'm confident we'll be in the mix with the other top teams.

“Just because of how much turnover there is in the Elite League, every year is almost a clean slate for everyone. And, like every other season and every other team, our goal is going to be to win a trophy.”

For the 30-year-old, that means getting down to work as quickly as possible. He’s just finished his second week of his own personal pre-season training in Nashville, Tennessee and is gradually planning a return to on-ice activities early in July as he builds up to a return to Belfast in early August for training camp.

The mindset doesn’t change, though. A fiercely driven competitor, Goodwin is happy to play whatever role necessary to help the team win, although the likelihood he will be asked to do anything other than score or set up goals again like his last two seasons in Belfast seems unlikely.

The Giants would certainly accept a similar return to last season.

“I want much of the same,” concurs the captain. “I felt I did well individually (last season). I felt good physically, I didn't get injured a ton. I don't necessarily have a specific points total in mind. I was happy with my performance in the Challenge Cup, leading the team in points.

"I just want to keep being a go-to performer for Keefer, that he can trust me in all situations. I don't need to be 'the guy', and I hope we do bring in another J.J.-like player who can score every night.

"I'm just going to do my thing every night and I think, more importantly, I want to do what I can to steer the ship in the right direction as captain.”

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