Kell Beattie and Mack Stewart met 12 years ago as two five-year-old Northern Irish kids taking their first steps onto an ice rink.
Since then they have progressed through the ranks together with the Junior Belfast Giants, playing alongside each other at Under-16 and Under-20 level and excelling for both.
So it was rather appropriate that, when the time came, the pair made their senior debuts for the Belfast Giants together.
With injuries decimating Adam Keefe’s line-up, the head coach called upon the duo — who are both now aged 17 — to fill in for their two games against the Fife Flyers last weekend, and neither looked a step out of place against players much more experienced than they.
Both have been training with the team all summer, but they had each signed deals with lower league teams — Beattie with the Solway Sharks in Scotland and Stewart at the Leeds Chiefs — to get valuable ice time. However, when the call came from Keefe, both quickly answered.
“This past year he’s gone to Leeds and I’ve gone to Solway but we’ve still managed to find our way back together with the Giants!” grinned Beattie.
“It’s a dream come true to do it in front of my family and friends. It’s even better that I did it with one of my closest mates.”
Both made their full debuts in Friday’s 2-0 road win over the Flyers, but it was in Sunday’s 6-2 home victory against the same opponents that the local pair really came to the fore.
Stewart, the son of Giants assistant coach Rob, had regular shifts throughout, paired with Ciaran Long and Lewis Hook in an all-British line, and he helped set up a goal for Long in the second period.
“The first game in Fife was a pretty good game for us but the first home game was another level,” said Stewart.
“Everyone was behind us and giving us a real boost. It was a lot of fun.”
For Beattie, his defensive partner could hardly have been more different to him as he took to the ice alongside the vastly experienced former first round NHL draft pick Griffin Reinhart.
“If someone told me I’d make my debut beside him, I wouldn’t know what to say to them!” laughed Beattie, who has been around the team for a couple of years already working with the Giants’ equipment manager Jason ‘Taff’ Ellery.
“Griff has helped me a lot during training and he talked to me a lot on the ice as well, which really helped me. All the defencemen have helped me so much and I can’t thank them enough.
“On Friday night, I was getting every odd shift, which was still a great experience, but (Sunday) was another level entirely. It was great making my debut on Friday but it wasn’t as sweet as the home debut.”
Both are likely to head back to their respective lower league teams this weekend, with the step up from facing Fife to this week’s opponents the Cardiff Devils a significant one. But don’t expect them to be content with a long spell away from the Giants from now on.
“I dreamed of playing when I was 17 or 18, so that gave me a goal to set and try to achieve,” said Stewart.
“Most players don’t play until they reach their twenties, so this is a great experience and it’s given me confidence to play more (for the Giants).”