British international Ben Lake leads list as Belfast Giants sign seven for next season
Head coach Adam Keefe's national team links have paid off once more as the Belfast Giants announced the signing of GB international Ben Lake for next season.
A year after convincing GB defenceman Paul Swindlehurst to make the switch from the Manchester Storm, Keefe has done it again with Lake.
The 29-year-old forward moves to the defending Elite League champions from the Coventry Blaze after a career season which saw him finish second in the league's scoring charts.
Lake finished the season with the Blaze having scored 34 goals and 77 points, second only to the Giants' own Darcy Murphy, while also adding three goals and an assist in the Challenge Cup.
His performances at the SkyDome saw him named to the EIHL's All-Star First Team last season, while he has scored at a 0.97 points per game rate since moving to the UK.
Predominantly a left winger, the Calgary native can also play centre and will add more versatility to the Giants' forward ranks as they aim to defend their league title.
However, despite being a British international, Lake will count as an import for the Giants as he developed and played his junior hockey in Canada.
With his scoring prowess, it is likely that the former Alaska Aces winger will jump straight into Belfast's top-six as a replacement for the outgoing Murphy.
Lake headlines a group of six re-signings for the Giants, all of which were announced at a fan event at the SSE Arena, as the roster continues to take shape for their 20th anniversary season.
Fellow international Swindlehurst, fresh from helping Great Britain stun the world by avoiding relegation from the IIHF World Championships, has also agreed to stay on.
He'll be joined on the blue line by another Brit, Mark Garside, while Curtis Leonard has also agreed to return for a second season in Belfast.
In his first season with the Belfast, 26-year-old Swindlehurst recorded just three goals and 11 points, switching between d-man and fourth line forward.
The Blackrod native played four games for Pete Russell's Great Britain side in Slovakia over the summer, helping them secure their place at next year's Worlds in Switzerland.
Garside likely would have joined his national compatriot on the roster had he not picked up an injury towards the end of the Giants' sensational treble-winning campaign.
The 30-year-old Scot has agreed to return for his 10th season with the club, coming off an injury-free season in which he scored two goals and 16 points.
The three-time Elite League champion has been beset by injuries in recent seasons, however he is coming in off
Ontario defenceman Leonard completes the trio of returning blue-liners, the 26-year-old returning for a second season in Belfast after a brilliant debut campaign.
Leonard formed a strong link with Josh Roach on the Giants' top pairing last season and was one of the Elite League's premier defensive d-men in 2018/19.
Finishing with four goals and 39 points on the season, it is likely the Canadian will be in the top-four of the Giants' defence again in the upcoming campaign.
There's also a returning figure in the forwards as left winger Lewis Hook signs on for his second season with the Giants after impressing in his first campaign with the team.
The 23-year-old is seen as one of the brightest British prospects in the Elite League and will be hoping to kick on from a strong debut season in Belfast where he scored seven goals and 25 points.
Hook flipped between the third and fourth lines last season and will likely do the same this season, hoping he can spark some offense to earn a move up more frequently.
And the Giants' back-up netminding duo will be back for another season in teal after Stephen Murphy and Andrew Dickson signed on the dotted line to return.
With Belfast likely to pursue an import goaltender to replace Tyler Beskorowany between the pipes, Murphy will be the primary backup, while Dickson will provide supplementary cover.
37-year-old Murphy is back for his 11th season with the Giants, with the six-time British Netminder of the Year an elite backup goaltender who is still able to produce at a high level.
Ballymoney man Dickson, the only local player on the roster, has agreed to terms for his 10th season with the team.
The seven signings join the already confirmed arrivals of Ciaran Long and Patryk Wronka on next season's roster, with fan favourite Jordan Smotherman also on board for the 2019/20 season.
However, there was disappointing news for fans as head coach Keefe confirmed that both leading scorer Darcy Murphy and sensational netminder Tyler Beskorowany would not return to the club.
Murphy, who is believed to be joining a team in the German second division, was the Elite League's top scorer last season, netting 50 goals and 101 points over the course of the season.
The winger leaves the Giants after two seasons, finishing with 84 goals and 160 points in that spell.
Meanwhile, goaltender Beskorowany is understood to be returning to Germany's top division after a simply sensational season in Belfast where he posted a 2.25 GAA and a .921 save percentage.
The 29-year-old was named Elite League Player of the Year for his performances, as well as the Giants' own Player of the Year.
Belfast Telegraph Digital