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Gabe Bast delighted as family fortunes see him become first new player to sign with Belfast Giants for upcoming season


New Belfast Giants defenceman Gabe Bast (Russell Hons)

New Belfast Giants defenceman Gabe Bast (Russell Hons)

New Belfast Giants defenceman Gabe Bast (Russell Hons)

Usually when a North American player joins the Belfast Giants, they're taking a leap of faith, either moving to Northern Ireland with a wife or girlfriend, and possibly a kid or two in tow, or perhaps just by themselves.

For Gabe Bast, he's got plenty of family in Northern Ireland already.

The 25-year-old defenceman is the first new player to sign up for the Giants for the 2022/23 season as head coach Adam Keefe and head of hockey operations Steve Thornton aim to improve their double-winning roster from last season, and they've started with a man who already knows the place well.

Bast, who himself is Canadian through and through having been born and raised in Red Deer, Alberta, has always known of his heritage. His grandfather grew up in Acton near Newry, and his extended family still live there to this day - something which influenced his decision to join the Giants.

"I saw an opportunity to go come to Belfast and play lots on a good team. The Giants have championship pedigree and that was really appealing, and I have family over there so it was a perfect fit for me," said Bast.

The move came together pretty quickly once his one and only season with KalPa in Finland came to an end, a spate of injuries meaning he never got the chance to fully settle on the ice in Kuopio. Knowing of his background in Northern Ireland, his agent reached out to Keefe and Thornton.

The negotiations were helped that Bast had just spent three memorable weeks in Ireland with his extended family, getting to see the sights of the north coast and Donegal. A keen golfer, all four of Ballyliffin, Portstewart, Royal Portrush and Royal County Down were taken in.

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At that stage he didn't know he would become a Giant only a few months later. But when the offer came a week after he first reached out to the Giants' brain trust, pen was put to paper almost immediately.

"I think I have something like 50 second cousins, my granddad had 14 siblings!" laughs Bast. "I heard a lot about these cousins, they're technically my mum's cousins, so it was nice to finally put faces to the names.

"That led to me talking to my agent and my parents about next season, and we ended up reaching out to Steve and Adam. I had a couple really good phone calls with them both, talked to my family and I thought coming to Belfast and becoming a Giant was the best move for me.

"I've played both with and against Chris Gerrie, who played in the Elite League last year (with Guildford) and he said he had a great time. Really competitive league, a lot of great teams and he loved it, said it would be a great fit."

The right-shot defenceman looks to be the ideal replacement for the retired Cam Knight on the roster as a smooth skater who is capable of jumping up in the play and helping out offensively, and he will be a contender to quarterback the powerplay next season.

A former team-mate of Scott Conway's in Penticton, Bast scored nine goals and 32 points in 106 games for the University of North Dakota in a successful college career, which yielded an NCAA NCHC conference title in the 2020-21 season.

Opting to move straight to Europe for his first season as a professional, the 25-year-old had gotten off to a strong start with KalPa as he scored three goals and four points in 18 games before he got injured in November, ending his season prematurely.

But having shaken off those injury problems and with a season of pro hockey now under his belt, Bast is eager to make his mark with the Giants next season, leading them into Europe in the Champions Hockey League as well helping them defend their league and Cup titles.

"I've been fortunate enough to play on championship teams, and whether you're a rookie or a guy who's played for 20 years, everyone has played in big games and everyone's experience will help the team along the way in order to fight for another championship," he says.

"I'm a competitive guy, two-way defenceman. I think I can bring a lot of good offensive instincts. It's tough to score in professional hockey and having a defenceman who can jump up in the play and get the puck in the forwards' hands is very beneficial and I love to do that, but also not to give up too much on the offensive side of the puck.

"I can't wait to get to Belfast and get stuck in. I think it's going to be a great season."

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