Awada set for Belfast Giants comeback
To say that the return of George Awada to the Belfast Giants roster came out of the blue could well be considered an understatement.
Eighteen months after retiring and then heading back to his native America with his Northern Ireland-born wife, Awada is back in the country and the skates that had been hung up will hit the Odyssey Arena ice again tonight when the Fife Flyers come to town.
At 36-years-old and having been out of the game since he helped the Giants to the Play-off title in 2010, coach Doug Christiansen isn’t expecting his compatriot to have the same impact on the team as when he became the club’s leading goalscorer during six successful seasons in Belfast.
Right thinking fans won’t hold any such high expectations either.
If, however, Awada’s presence brings about the kind of success that he has previously enjoyed in Belfast — as a Giant he has held every trophy aloft at least once — then Christiansen’s surprise signing will be a masterstroke.
“I played against George in the Elite League and year in, year out he scored goals and was a massive influence on the team,” said Christiansen.
“To have someone who is so well respected and so popular in Belfast to come in on a short-term basis will be a big help to our team. He is a great person, a very good player and although his role will be different to that which he has had in Belfast in the past, George will want to have an impact on the ice.”
With Jon Pelle expected to be out for another five weeks and Jeremy Rebek’s absence likely to be longer, Christiansen has been a player short — despite the fact that he signed Ryan Crane as an extra import, having anticipated that there would be injuries as the season progressed.
For any other team in the Elite League filling the gap left by an injured player is much easier than in Belfast, although not always entirely straightforward.
There are players in the English Premier League who can step up into the line-up with the likes of Sheffield, Nottingham or Cardiff.
The consequence of there being no history of ice hockey in Northern Ireland worth talking about is that there is virtually no pool of young talent to dip into.
Gareth Roberts has come into the team in the last 12 months, while Mark Morrison was a huge cult hero before he retired at the same time as Awada.
Graeme Walton is the longest serving Giant, having been in the team for eight years, but they are the exception and the locals all know that the imports are of a much higher quality.
That’s why, with Awada back to make Northern Ireland his home again, signing him was a fantastic option for Christiansen.
“Sheffield can go out and pull in a player like Warren Tait when they’re hit with injuries,” said Christiansen.
“With respect to the players who are around locally, we can’t do that. We can’t bring in a player without getting into having to house him and get him a car.
“We are doing what we can to improve the local talent. We have brought Gareth Roberts into the team, Jordan Scott-Brown and Stevie Adams have trained with us, but with George Awada back in town we’ve been able to turn to someone who is proven.”