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'I love Belfast': Netminder Shane Owen keen for Giants return after getting back on the ice with Coventry Blaze in EIHL Series

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Belfast Giants netminder Shane Owen (William Cherry/Presseye)

Belfast Giants netminder Shane Owen (William Cherry/Presseye)

William Cherry/Presseye

Belfast Giants netminder Shane Owen (William Cherry/Presseye)

Faced with the prospect of not playing hockey for a full year, former Belfast Giants netminder Shane Owen found himself looking for a part-time job over lockdown.

Staying with his girlfriend in Scotland during the pandemic, the Canadian needed something to tide him over and he found the perfect job both for his skills and his look - felling trees with a local arborist!

"I already had the beard so I threw a plaid shirt on and got to work!" laughs the 30-year-old, now back in his home in Toronto.

"I didn't mind it either! They were long days outside but I didn't mind it. It was good. It is a good living if I decide to go that way after hockey."

Of course, felling trees and living out his lumberjack look wasn't Owen's preferred way to spend the last year. In an ideal world, he would have been on the ice playing his 11th professional season as a hockey player as opposed to heading into the wilds of Scotland to do some impromptu deforestation.

But life after hockey is something that has, of course, come into sharp focus over lockdown for a lot of players across the world. Of the Giants' roster in the 2019-20 season, eight of them have not played since that final game against Fife on March 6, while several more have only just found teams for the upcoming EIHL Series.

Owen was not exempt. The former Flyers goaltender had looked around Europe for jobs when it became clear the Giants weren't going to compete in a 2020-21 season but none of the offers were quite right and, by the time the offers started coming in that did pique his interest, teams were hesitant to bring in a goalie mid-season who hadn't played in nearly a year.

That, naturally, led to Owen questioning his own future in the sport, and a stint with an axe in his hand and a log hauled over his shoulder gave him added pause for thought. But, just as quickly as he had asked those questions, he answered them fairly robustly in his own mind.

"Right now there's still some unfinished business and I still feel there are more championships I can bring back before my career's done," he says defiantly.

The stats very much suggest he's right. In Belfast last season he had one of the best years of his career, leading the Elite League in goals against average (2.39) and adding a .917 save percentage that was only bettered by C.J. Motte, Matt Ginn and Kevin Carr.

On more than one occasion he single-handedly kept the Giants in games. Even in the Champions League, despite losing five games, the netminder was exceptional in most of the ties, most notably in the road games against Augsburger Panther and Lulea.

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Belfast Giants netminder Shane Owen denies Isac Brannstrom in their 4-0 loss to Lulea at the Coop Norrbotten Arena in Sweden

Belfast Giants netminder Shane Owen denies Isac Brannstrom in their 4-0 loss to Lulea at the Coop Norrbotten Arena in Sweden

Belfast Giants netminder Shane Owen denies Isac Brannstrom in their 4-0 loss to Lulea at the Coop Norrbotten Arena in Sweden

"I feel like last year in Belfast, statistically I had one of my best seasons and I felt like I was at the top of my game and still had more to give," adds Owen. "I love the game, it's what I've done my whole life and I want to keep playing as long as I can."

Because of that, the Ontario native held out for the right offer. And, shortly after returning from Scotland to get back to Canada before they added further travel restrictions, it came when he received a call from Coventry Blaze head coach Danny Stewart to ask what he was doing in April and May.

And, so, at the end of this week, Owen will pack up all his stuff again and return to the UK, this time to Nottingham to suit up for the Blaze as their starting netminder for the upcoming EIHL Series.

"Danny Stewart reached out to me and it was kind of a no-brainer for me. They showed the interest and I wanted to get back playing, so this is a great way to get back into action with some really great players," Owen says of signing for his third EIHL team.

"I've heard nothing but great things about Danny and the Blaze. Swinny's (Paul Swindlehurst, former team-mate at the Giants) a familiar face right off the bat, I texted him when he got drafted and we're really excited to be playing together again."

It may not be the full season that he would have preferred to be involved in, rather a 24-game mini-tournament held solely in Nottingham between just four teams - the Blaze, Manchester Storm, Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers - but Owen is still excited to be getting back on the ice and playing games as opposed to just skating to stay in shape.

"It should be fun to get out there and play five weeks straight of hockey, then into play-offs, there should be some great games," admits Owen.

"We're going to have to have chemistry quickly for sure and gel as a group. We have to come out of the gate hot and keep growing, keep building some momentum, because five weeks is not a long time."

For any Coventry fans worried about any rustiness that Owen may have after not playing for a year, the goaltender moves quickly to play down those suggestions. While he admits that some areas of his game may need refined again in practice before the tournament begins, he hasn't been idle for a full year.

His stay in Scotland afforded him time to practice with some of the Scottish players such as Craig Moore and, even when restrictions clamped down on when he could go to the rink, he was still there practicing by himself. He's even been on the ice back in Canada too, taking pucks from some local players to stay sharp.

"As a goalie it's pretty hard training by yourself not stopping shots, but I was still staying in shape and doing home workouts as much as I could," reveals Owen.

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Belfast Giants netminder Shane Owen keeps the Guildford Flames at bay in Sunday's game at the Spectrum

Belfast Giants netminder Shane Owen keeps the Guildford Flames at bay in Sunday's game at the Spectrum

Belfast Giants netminder Shane Owen keeps the Guildford Flames at bay in Sunday's game at the Spectrum

"It's been a long time but I've been on the ice shaking off the rust so I should be good to go. I haven't played a game in a year but I feel in good shape and I'm really excited to be getting back into the action."

The likelihood is that Owen will command the lion's share of time in the Blaze net during the EIHL Series given his experience and proven track record at this level but, realistically, he won't play every game given most sides have three games each week. Even at the highest level in the NHL, the best goaltenders don't start that often.

In his stead, Jordan Hedley - Coventry's back-up for the last two seasons - should get some starts and Owen is eager to help him and fellow reserve netminder Will Bray in any way he can.

"It'll be nice to mentor those guys and learn from them too," he says. "At the same time I have to get in shape and do my work! But I'm excited to help those guys."

And while all his focus is on doing what he can to help the Blaze come out on top in this EIHL Series, there is the question of what comes next season when - Covid permitting - the Elite League returns to its normal 54-game schedule with all ten teams.

Should Owen impress over the next few weeks, continuing his association with Coventry could be an option, although they may try and re-sign Motte, who is currently playing in the American Hockey League. Given he had interest on the continent this season, it's likely some of that would still exist for next season.

But, given his excellent track record in the 19-20 season, it seems unthinkable that the Giants wouldn't at least explore the possibility of a reunion in September. And, on Owen's part, there would certainly be mutual interest in signing up for a second season at the SSE Arena.

"Hopefully things work out in September and we can get back to a regular EIHL season. I honestly haven't thought about next season yet at all," he admits. "I'd like to start looking at options now, but my focus first is on this Series and getting some reps in, and then starting to look ahead to next season.

"I would love to be back in Belfast. I love the organisation, it's so professional. I love the fans, I love the city, I have nothing bad to say about my season with the team, so I'd love to be back. It's out of my hands, though, so we'll see what happens."

First is potentially winning a championship with the Blaze, the reason why he didn't hang up the skates and pads over lockdown. But don't be surprised if Adam Keefe will be watching closely in the hope that he can do something similar in Belfast next season.

Belfast Telegraph


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