Giants look to the future with SNL team
The Scottish National Ice Hockey League (SNL) have confirmed that the Belfast Giants will field a team in the league next season on a trial basis.
The Giants team, which last competed in the SNL in 2014, will be a development side consisting of up and coming ice hockey players, predominantly from Northern Ireland but also from around the UK, with the senior team still competing in the Elite Ice Hockey League.
The Giants side will join the SNL for the start of the 2019/20 season and will play all of their games in Scotland in their inaugural campaign, with all games worth double points to compensate for the lack of home fixtures.
If they were to make the end of season play-offs, however, the team would be granted permission to play their home games in Northern Ireland, most likely at the Dundonald Ice Bowl.
Should things go smoothly, the hope is that a second ice rink in Dundonald would be completed in time for the 2020/21 season, which would allow the Giants to be fully integrated into the league and play a full season of fixtures at home and away.
With only the SSE Arena and Dundonald Ice Bowl currently housing ice sheets in Northern Ireland, it was an outspoken desire of Odyssey Trust chief executive Robert Fitzpatrick to build more, with this the first step to providing more opportunities for Northern Irish ice hockey players to develop.
In the past, young Northern Irish players such as Adam Robinson, Stephen Eccles and Ross Hancock have had to leave the Giants' system for regular ice time elsewhere, but this will allow them to continue their development with the Giants, while also opening up the chance of a call-up to the Elite League roster.
"Belfast have assured Scottish Ice Hockey (SIH) that they are trying to build a sustainable SNL side that will provide a stepping stone for young players in the future," said SIH chairman David Hand.
"A new rink is being built in the Dundonald area, which will lead to more ice hockey players, and we believe that adding the Giants to the SNL now will help speed up that process."