Belfast Telegraph

Lake wants to make a giant impact in Belfast

Fresh arrival: New Belfast Giants forward Ben Lake in action for Great Britain
Fresh arrival: New Belfast Giants forward Ben Lake in action for Great Britain
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Having finally made his way back home, Ben Lake was afforded the chance to take stock of a hectic couple of months.

The winger had just finished his second Elite League season with the Coventry Blaze when he was called into Pete Russell's Great Britain side for the first time ahead of their World Championships tilt in Kosice, Slovakia, and once out there, Lake was part of the sensational effort that saw GB avoid relegation and stay in the top tier of international ice hockey against all the odds, completing one of the shocks of the sporting summer.

When that achievement had sunk in, it was back to Canada for a couple of weeks of rest on Vancouver Island, which was then followed by the small ordeal of a 14-hour drive back home.

But, despite barely having any time off, Lake is already eyeing his next challenge. Having agreed to join the Belfast Giants for next season, the Canadian is set on making a big impact with the Elite League champions, even if it means missing his usual time off.

"It's a short summer with the GB commitments and the Champions League, but I get kinda bored anyway so I'm ready to get started into it," said Lake from his home in Calgary.

"I don't really skate too often in the summer, I just get away from it for the two months over summer and then once you get back to your new team you're ready to go."

Having put up career-best numbers with the Blaze last season - scoring 38 goals and 83 points in just 68 games to finish second in the Elite League scoring charts - the 29-year-old will be one of the Giants' marquee signings ahead of the new campaign.

With first-line left wing Darcy Murphy moving to Germany for next season, head coach Adam Keefe needed to find a suitable replacement. In Lake, he's found a top quality and proven one.

A lethal finisher in front of goal, a hard worker and a physical presence too, the in-form winger ticked all the boxes, while it also helped that Lake endeared himself to the fans before signing by scoring when Coventry defeated the Cardiff Devils on the final day of last season to hand the Giants the Elite League title.

The former US college star insists there's more to come from him too, with his ever-improving stat line suggesting he's only getting better as the years go by.

"This past season was the best of my career, hands down, and I think the main reason for that was confidence," explained Lake.

"I'd been getting more ice time with Coventry two seasons ago, so I went into last season with a lot more confidence and that was why I started so well and then continued it.

"Coming to Belfast it's the same thing, I'm being brought in as a guy to put up numbers, so there's that pressure there but that drives me on too.

"I'm confident coming into the season with that pressure, knowing that I'm the guy the team might lean on and therefore I have to up my game even more."

Lake's form had done enough to convince Keefe. After the Giants eliminated the Blaze from the play-offs, the coach was quickly on the phone and from there the move came together.

It helped that the pair spent plenty of time together with the Great Britain squad at the World Championships, with Lake's performances only further enhancing Keefe's belief that he was the man he wanted.

Together they masterminded GB's incredible survival, securing their place in the top flight next year with a come-from-behind 4-3 overtime win over France.

"That was so awesome. It was definitely the highlight of my hockey career so far, just being out there and playing against some of those guys was almost surreal at times, and we were proud of how we matched up," said Lake.

"We knew going into those games against Canada and the US it was a pretty big uphill climb, but I think we earned a lot of respect along the way. Then going into that last game and beating France, that was something I'll remember for a long, long time.

"Seeing everyone's reaction, the GB guys have played together for so long and to see how pumped they were to stay up, and for all of us it was a great achievement."

With an offer on the table to return to Coventry, it was a very tough decision for Lake as to where he would play next season. In the end, a few factors came into play and the decision fell in favour of the Giants.

"I talked to (Colin) Shields and Swins (Paul Swindlehurst) as well, and those two guys couldn't say enough good things about the city, and that combined with playing in the Champions League and being defending champions of the Elite League was something I couldn't turn down," he revealed.

"I think it's just those two things make it so exciting for me, I'm expecting the level of hockey (in the CHL) to be the same as at the World Championships and it's going to be a lot of fun playing in front of some crazy crowds."

With just over a month to go until players start reporting in for training camp, Lake will finish off his abbreviated summer before making his way to Belfast.

While he may stay off the ice for a while longer, he does have a way to stay fit in the mean time: mountain biking.

"It's pretty big in Calgary. It's fun, it keeps me in shape and it's something to do. Summers can get pretty boring when you're sitting around all day," he said before quickly adding: "I stay off it during the season, I don't want to be an idiot and get injured."

The Giants hope the same. Lake is a big part of what they want to do next season, and he's ready for the challenge.

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