Belfast Telegraph

Johnson given send-off in Belfast Giants testimonial

By Stuart McKinley

Shane Johnson's career has been littered with moments of glory, memorable nights that formed the history of the Belfast Giants.

Last night he savoured another one.

Surrounded by the men who along with him made the Belfast Giants what they are, who created history and recorded many firsts for the team, Johnson claimed one more victory in his testimonial game last night.

A handful of goals for the man of the moment and smiles all round. That's what this kind of game is all about.

It was the night the stars came out for one last time. For anyone who has followed the Belfast Giants long enough this was a trip down memory lane. A chance to relive the boom times, the glory days of the first three seasons when the Superleague title and then the Play-off championship were won.

Johnson played a part in those triumphs and every trophy win the team has had in 10 years of existence. A Belfast Giant from day one, he retired last season as the most decorated player the club has ever had and more than deserved what was a fitting send off.

He won't be lost to Belfast though as this is now where he calls home and as well as the city being in his heart, he is in the heart of every Belfast Giants fan, which is why his name was chanted from the stands as he made an emotional speech at the end of last night's game.

Jason Ruff — regarded by many as the team's best ever player — cult hero Paxton Schulte and Colin Ward, who played every shift with a smile on his face, all flew across the Atlantic to be here.

If that doesn't tell you how popular a team-mate Shane Johnson was, nothing will. Even though others had shorter journeys, Johnson was able to assemble a team on which every skater had won league titles with him in either 2002 or 2006.

It was a team that money couldn't buy and if a Giants All Star team was handpicked it wouldn't vary much from this line-up, with Rob Stewart, Jason Bowen, Colin Shields and Johnson himself all in that category.

The fans came to honour Johnson and they came to be entertained too. They weren't short changed.

The scoreline didn't matter. The fact that Johnson's team won 14-11 just made the occasion even more memorable. Seeing modern day Giants tough guy Mike Hoffman ‘fighting' Schulte was fun, so too was Hoffman tripping when he was taking part in the penalty shot competition.

Current Giants coach Doug Christiansen laced up his skates and proceeded to score a goal. Maybe his career isn't over yet.

This is probably the last time that these players who sent the Belfast Giants message across the globe will be on the ice together and they were determined to enjoy it.

For someone like myself who has watched from on high as the Giants have gone through highs and lows, to be part of the team last night was special. Having sampled the camaraderie in the dressing room and on the bench it's hardly a surprise that they achieved so much together.

It's been a pleasure to watch some of these players on the ice, let alone have the opportunity to get to know them. To see them back at the Odyssey Arena, to change in the same locker room and sit next to them on the bench before hitting the ice alongside legends was a thrill.

“You're on next shift,” came the message from Johnson — who ‘coached' his own team.

At least Colin Shields had fallen earlier so I wasn't going to be the first to end up flat on his face on the ice.

The 10th Giants goal was scored by some guy called McKinley, whoever he is. He's going to retire now, but not with anything like the kind of memories that Shane Johnson will take into his old age.

The fans who came to pay tribute also came to thank Johnson for his service. It was well deserved. He may be gone from the team, but he won't be forgotten.

Daughter Jolie joined her dad on the ice at the end of the game. She's not old enough to know how much of a legend he is, but she'll find out in good time. The others who saw him play already know it.

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