Colin Shields headlines six Belfast Giants signings for the upcoming season
Great Britain's all-time leading scorer Colin Shields headlined the Belfast Giants' announcement of six players for the upcoming Elite League season, while young British prospect Lewis Hook has joined from Milton Keynes Lightning.
Also re-signed from last season are Scottish defenseman Mark Garside, Canadian forward duo Jonathan Ferland and Dustin Johner, and Scottish netminder Stephen Murphy.
But it's Shields, fresh off winning gold with Team GB at the recent World Championships Division 1A in Budapest, who will please fans most as he returns in teal for a seventh consecutive season, his 11th overall.
The 38-year old, who is also the Giants' all-time leading points scorer, recorded 55 points (27 goals, 28 assists) in 51 games for Adam Keefe's side last season and is a lethal finisher in the offensive zone.
Shields, who was drafted by NHL side the Philadelphia Flyers in 2000, has also had spells with the Newcastle Vipers and Sheffield Steelers but has now very much made Belfast his hometown club and is sure to be on the Giants' first line again this season.
Meanwhile, Hook (21), who was announced to be leaving Milton Keynes last week, will provide a young British player for the roster who has very high upside having recorded 26 points (11G, 15A) in 56 games for the Elite League newcomers.
The Peterborough-born forward had a prolific GB Under-20s career, playing 14 games for them over three years, scoring 17 points (7G, 10A), while he has also had stints with the Elite League's Coventry Blaze and the Peterborough Phantoms in the English Premier Ice Hockey League.
Garside will provide a strong option at the blueline as he returns for a ninth season with the Giants having joined in 2010 from the Edinburgh Capitals, and he has been a reliable operator in teal all throughout that time.
The 29-year old Scot, who was originally a forward before transitioning back to defense, missed much of last campaign through injury, only dressing for 15 games before being shut down for the season, however he will be hoping to get back to full fitness and back to his best this year.
The same is true of netminder Stephen Murphy, who missed practically all of last season after injuring his shoulder against the Sheffield Steelers early in the campaign, only making two league appearances.
The 36-year old did recover to dress as a backup to Chris Truehl late last season, which bodes well for the Scot who will hope to replicate the performances he was providing before his injury in his 10th year with Belfast.
With rotation partner Jackson Whistle joining the Sheffield Steelers next season, it will be interesting to see whether Murphy will be tasked with the everyday role a year after his shoulder problems or if the Giants will dip into the market for another backstop.
Winger Dustin Johner is another player who spent much of last season on the treatment table who has signed on for the new campaign, the 35-year old agreeing to a second season at the Giants despite a frustrating first year in the UK.
Johner, who was signed from Austrian side Villacher SV last season, only iced in 19 games for Belfast and scored 10 points (3G, 7A), but he will hope this season will be kinder to him and he'll be able to show what he can do.
Fellow Canadian forward Jonathan Ferland will also be a welcome returnee to the roster this season following a very successful first year in teal when he recorded 35 points (14G, 21A) in 47 games.
A veteran operator, who wore the "A" for Belfast last season and scored in the Challenge Cup final win, Ferland provides both consistent points production and a physical edge along the boards and will be a quality player in the Giants' middle six.
Belfast Telegraph Digital