For fans of ice hockey in Belfast, the three months between September and December 2000 felt like an eternity.
After all, having finally seen a team founded in Northern Ireland, followers of the newly formed Belfast Giants then had the agony of watching their first few 'home' games be moved to other venues due to the Odyssey Arena not being ready for the season's start.
Having been inducted into the league in September 2000, the Giants found themselves calling the likes of Basingstoke and Coventry as their temporary home for the first couple of months as the new Odyssey - now the SSE Arena - was still being finished.
So, having initially been looking forward to a first home game early in the campaign, the fans were made to wait again for a chance to see their new heroes in action.
But once they did, it was worth the wait.
The date was pencilled in well in advance: 2 December 2000. The opponents were lined up early too, the Ayr Scottish Eagles given the honour of being the first team to try and win an ice hockey game in Belfast.
In the meantime, the wait was equally frustrating for the players. The team had long been recruited and had already begun their maiden season, with head coach Dave Whistle able to call upon stars such as Paxton Schulte, Todd Kelman, Shane Johnson, Rob Stewart and Colin Ward.
The excitement at finally playing a game in Belfast was helped by the fact that their early season record wasn't great. A less than ideal 4-11 record in their first 15 games had meant that talk within the fanbase had already started to turn towards when they would finally be allowed into the Odyssey.
"We'd been in the city a couple of months already and we'd been playing our home games on the road. So we could feel, from getting out in the community and talking to people, there was an excitement about the Giants starting up here. That was really special in the lead-up to it," explains Johnson, a defenceman.
The organisation were cautiously optimistic ahead of 'opening night'. They were hopeful they would draw a good crowd for their first ever game. In reality, they were being too cautious because it turned out the demand for tickets would be overwhelming.
Kelman laughs as he recalls: "We had no idea when we put tickets on sale if we were actually going to sell any, and all of a sudden we're sold out in a few hours!"
Come that winter Saturday night, the Odyssey was packed to the rafters. Just over 7,200 tickets were sold for the game and all of them showed up - a sell-out for the opening home game in franchise history.
Supporters lined the streets. The corporate boxes were packed. As the players filtered into the arena they could already sense the energy and the electricity around the building even though they were still around an hour away from face-off.
In fact, by the time they took to the ice for warm-up - which normally would take place with the stands half-empty - the place was already pretty much at capacity.
"I'll never forget coming out for warm-up in that game and there were 7,000 people watching us warm-up, cheering us when we scored in our own goal because only a small percentage of them had actually seen hockey before!" grins Kelman.
"People were just enthralled with us, we were like rock stars. We kept saying to each other we'd found our own NHL, we just couldn't tell people about it!"
Filtering back into the locker room to finalise their preparations for the game, each individual was cheered off the ice, only further emphasising how far that night would be from the normal that they were used to.
As they looked at each other as the minutes ticked down towards face-off, the players began to realise they would, understandably, need to gear up slightly differently to your average league game. After all, this was to be no routine night at the rink.
"I would liken it to my first NHL game, there was so much buzz around it," says forward Schulte of his memories from before the game. "I got there early, I did my routine, I sat and looked in, I was just trying to be absolutely ready to go."
The night was doubly special for the Alberta native, who had his sister Brandy in town to watch him play a professional game for the first time, and around the rest of the locker room, other players knew it was a big night even though the chatter was kept to a minimum.
Kelman concurred: "I don't remember Whis saying anything because he didn't need to. We were so pumped to be out there."
Indeed, the defenceman - who is now the general manager of the Cardiff Devils in the Elite League - was so excited to be part of the game that he made a special request of the head coach.
"In hockey, the starting line-up isn't that big a deal because you all play roughly the same minutes, but I wasn't down to start," he explains.
"I don't remember who was, but I went to Whis and I was like 'I need to start this game', and he said 'Why?' and I replied 'I just know this is going to matter to me someday'. That's literally what I said to him.
"And I'm really glad I did. For me, that's a really cool part of my history."
Whistle relented and added Kelman's name to the starting line-up. From a hockey perspective, that was the final piece of the puzzle for the head coach, who was ready to lead his team from the bench.
There was just one more issue to check off the list - who would lead the team onto the ice clutching the flag of Belfast? Normally it would be captain Jeff Hoad, but, understandably, there was apprehension around the locker room as to who would take on the honour for the first ever game in Belfast.
Symbolically, it was a big deal. After all, this was a team that was meant to bridge the cross-community divide in the city, and there were plenty of dignitaries watching on from the corporate seats.
When nobody else stepped up to the plate, Schulte took it upon himself.
"That would be the only thing that was such a big deal but was an important thing, y'know? We're starting a new sport here that would bring the community together after difficult times," he says.
"It was important to be there. Just being accepted by everyone was amazing, and we wanted to make sure they knew our appreciation."
So, clutching the purple flag adorned with the words "Welcome to Belfast City", in front of his sister and 7,200 adoring fans, Schulte led the team onto the ice to the roars of approval from their new supporters, whose backgrounds all blended into one teal coloured hue.
Each player was introduced, each with his own nickname, and with that, there was nothing left to do. Pre-game ceremonies were done. The players and officials were on the ice and the time had finally come.
With that, the puck was dropped, and the Giants' tenure in Belfast had begun.
Understandably, the first few minutes were cagey, the Giants not wanting to concede an early goal and sap the energy out of the building and Ayr happy to feel their way into the game as the villains of the piece.
"It was a strange atmosphere where people were cheering at inappropriate times and we were on the ice wondering what they were cheering about!" is Johnson's main recollection of the opening exchanges.
"I'm sure it helped out Paxton's game a lot because he relied on physicality, and any time there was a collision or two guys stared at each other, the crowd immediately went crazy looking for a fight!"
While the game as a whole will be remembered as a momentous one for obvious reasons, the history books will remember Schulte in particular as the Canadian wrote himself into Giants folklore for three separate reasons inside the first period alone.
The first was he became the first player to score a goal at the Odyssey, the former NHL forward taking a feed from Jason Bowen and firing past Philippe DeRouville - a future Giant himself - in the Scottish Eagles' net to give the home side a 1-0 lead after 6:29.
"Right place, right time!" he says somewhat modestly when asked about the strike. "When the puck was coming across to me, all I could think of was 'don't miss'!
"I was excited about the goal, I was excited we were leading, I was excited my sister saw me score. There were a lot of mixed emotions.
"I never really thought about the history at the time, but right now looking back, that's so awesome. One of the best highlights of my career for sure. The picture, I'm there, I'm excited. It wasn't just another goal, it was a goal for 20 years coming."
The second and third reasons came back-to-back - not only did he then become the first player to get in a fight at the Odyssey by dropping gloves with Ayr's Trevor Doyle, he also became the first Giants player to be ejected on home ice for doing so!
"A guy like Paxton, a big physical guy, he knew what his role was and didn't disappoint!" smiles Johnson.
Kelman adds: "If you went away from that game not knowing who Paxton Schulte was then you weren't watching that game!
"We would laugh afterwards because he became the superstar. Paxton was a legitimate superstar - he was a larger than life, physical, tough guy who could score and would get in fights, but would be the first man signing autographs after games.
"People loved him, he was the perfect ambassador."
Unfortunately, Schulte's ejection didn't help the Giants. Rhett Gordon and Scott Young would score for Ayr either side of the first intermission, and ultimately the visitors would be the first team to win on Belfast ice, claiming a 2-1 victory.
Netminder DeRouville claimed man of the match for the Scots, reflecting on how much the hosts had pushed for the victory, but ultimately their first home win would have to wait for another day.
But what had been achieved goes a long way beyond just one result. You won't find any Giants fan complaining that their first home game was 'ruined' by defeat - the significance of getting a cross-community team on the ice in the city transcended the scoreline.
"The result was inconsequential compared to what we had started. Games come and go, but the feeling of being part of something that special will always stay," says Johnson.
The Giants would go on to sell out every home game for the remainder of the season and would become almost impossible to defeat on home ice, finishing 13-3 in their 16 games at the Odyssey following the game against Ayr.
While their start to the season left them with too much work to do for silverware - they finished sixth in the league - the building blocks were in place for success going forward. The following year, they won their first league championship, and backed that up with five further titles.
And twenty years later, they're still here and still going strong.
"We lost the first game but we were set after that. It was the hottest ticket in town. And you think how far it's come... it's a unique story for sure," agrees Kelman.
Johnson and Kelman are still based in the UK despite their playing careers having come to an end, such was the impact of their time in Belfast, another indication of how much of an influence the team can have on individuals.
As for Schulte, he is back in Canada, but he still has pictures of that first goal and stepping onto the ice with the flag at his home, and he wouldn't give them up for all the money in the world.
"Michael Cooper (the Giants' photographer at the time) did a great job of capturing everything. Just amazing. Stepping onto the ice with the flag of Belfast city, stuff like that," he smiles.
"Just the memory itself, that's something that can never be taken from us."
He still keeps an eye on how the Giants have been doing and was back in Belfast for Stephen Murphy's testimonial game last year. And twenty years on from scoring, fighting and being ejected in that first game, he's not surprised to see where the team is now.
"I think because of how it's gone forward, there is that disappointment of not winning that first game. But as the years and the seasons have progressed, I think had it been a win, expectations would have been much higher," he admits.
"For me, the Giants were like a fine wine or a whiskey - it needed to age. The product that has come of it because of that first game and going forward from there, the slow process has made it even better.
"Sure, they've had ups and downs, but that was an amazing start to what is a fantastic franchise and hopefully, once what we're going through now passes, they can continue that going forward."