Former Belfast Giants forward Ben Lake has admitted he considered hanging up his skates prior to signing for the Sheffield Steeldogs in the NIHL's Streaming Series at the end of last year.
The 30-year-old will take to the ice with the Steeldogs today in the first game of their Spring Cup campaign against the Swindon Wildcats (6.30pm), but his return almost never happened.
Not wanting to play outside of the UK, and faced with the prospect of a full year without playing when the Elite League was suspended indefinitely, the thought of ending his career did cross Lake's mind before the NIHL set up the short-term Streaming Series back in November.
Lake joined the Steeldogs, playing a key role in helping them win the title, and off the back of that the Canada-born Great Britain international has agreed to return to the team for the Spring Cup over the next two months, and he's excited about getting back on the ice again.
"After the (Elite League) was cancelled, nobody knew what was going to happen. I didn't know if I was ever going to play a game again," admitted Lake, who has been working full-time in marketing in Wakefield while not playing.
"I just wasn't sure. I can't be sitting around doing nothing forever. But being able to play again has been great for me, it's been a lot of fun.
"I still don't know what's going to happen in the future, but we'll take it a game at a time and then go from there."
The Giants would certainly want him back for the 2021-22 campaign given he scored 11 goals and 34 points with them last season, while he would be one of the first names on GB head coach Pete Russell's roster for the upcoming World Championships in Latvia.
Eight of the team that went to the 2019 World Championships will take part in the Spring Cup, and Lake believes having some form of ice hockey back in the UK could be vital in their bid to avoid relegation in May.
"None of us in that team have been playing regularly, so if (the Worlds) are going to happen then it's important for us to get that game fitness," he pointed out.
"A lot of us have been sitting on the couch waiting for something to happen. Hopefully when we get into GB camp we'll be ready for the games at the end."
Before that, Lake will be keen to pick up his second trophy with the Steeldogs by winning the Spring Cup, and a good start against the Wildcats tonight would go a long way towards that.
On paper, the Steeldogs have an extremely strong roster, with fellow GB internationals Ben O'Connor, Davey Phillips and Jonathan Phillips among his team-mates.
Liam Kirk, the first British-trained NHL draft pick, will also play for Sheffield having returned from Canada, but Lake doesn't believe they are guaranteed champions.
“If you look at our team on paper, it breeds confidence in us, but you don’t really know until you get on the ice, right?" he says.
"If you look at some of the other teams, they’re putting some great line-ups together too. It all comes down to what happens on the ice.
“We’re probably a bit more prepared this time. Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling. The tournament is looking a lot more professional this time around, there are a lot more teams involved, so I think everyone’s pretty excited."
And there will be at least two Giants reunions as forwards Ciaran Long and Lewis Hook are on the Bees team who are due to clash with the Steeldogs on March 20.
“It’ll be fun. It’ll be good to see those guys again," adds Lake.
"Lewis was playing with MK (Milton Keynes) so I caught up with him last time, but I haven’t seen Longer since Belfast, so hopefully we can have some banter!"