Known for its quick actions, hard bashes, and mighty comebacks, ice hockey is a popular sport across Europe’s countries and the North American continent. It is a contact team sport played on ice in a rink where two teams of six players use their stick to shoot a puck into the opponent’s net to score.
The origin of ice hockey is still unknown, but it seems that it has probably evolved from the game of field hockey that has been played in Northern Europe for centuries.
Focusing on the Emerald Isle, the Belfast Giants are an ice hockey team from Belfast, Northern Ireland that competes in the Elite Ice Hockey League. The team’s home games are played at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast which has over a 7000 seat capacity.
The Belfast Giants are currently sponsored by Stena Line and are known as the Stena Line Belfast Giants and are considered one of the most successful ice hockey teams in Northern Europe.
History of Ice Hockey in Ireland
In the year 1996, Ireland submitted its request to be accepted as a member of the world governing body of ice hockey, the International Ice Hockey Federation. The membership request came after years and years of commitment and dedication and outpouring love for the ice hockey sport in Ireland.
The vote to accept Ireland was put forth to the 54 member countries (at the time) of the IIHF, and in a historic moment, Ireland had earned a place in the international ice hockey scene.
The National Governing Body for the sport of Ice Hockey in Ireland grew into the Irish Ice Hockey Association and it has survived many ups and downs despite the inadequate pieces of equipment and facilities and the lack of professionals to foster the sport.
Nowadays, the IIHA has over 300 members who serve and work to make the sport grow bigger and admirable for its (potential) fans. The IIHA has undoubtedly earned its success and managed to become one of the best things to happen to the sports world in Ireland.
The Irish Ice Hockey Association achieved Full Sport Ireland National Governing Body of Sport status in September of 2018 following a successful 2-year mandatory probationary period. It was a significant and important leap forward for the association and the sport.
Provenance and Prevalence
The exact birth time of ice hockey in Ireland is unclear, but the sport has mainly existed in Ireland for over 30 years. Some sports historians have said that the first ice rink was built over 40 years ago in the West Coast of Ireland, but these reports have yet to be proven accurate.
The first documented ice rink, however, was the Dublin Ice Rink on the south side of the capital in Dolphin’s Barn Rialto.
The Barn Rialto was converted from its original holding as a cinema and then catered primarily to public skating. Unfortunately, the ice surface was quite small compared to today’s standards because it was roughly only 1/3 of regulation size.
That didn’t stop people and the locals from swarming in and discovering the ice rink and learning how to skate. It was not long before rink managers discovered that ice hockey could be an additional source of income, and the first Irish ice hockey players took to the ice at that time and Irish ice hockey was born.
Most of the first ice hockey sessions were just young children learning how to skate and none of the adults had any experience in the sport. It was essential for Dolphin’s Barn to lure inexperienced players from abroad, and they were lucky to find some Canadian college students who were interested to teach the Irish amateurs the rules and tactics of the sport.
By the mid-1980s, The ice rink in Dolphin’s Barn was still the only ice rink in Ireland. Fortunately, an ice rink in the north side of Dublin was opened in 1987.
Another cinema was converted and became the Silver Skate Ice Rink in Phibsboro on the northern side of Dublin. Therefore, ice hockey had a fresh boost as the new rink led the way for competition in the capital. It was always an intense rivalry when the revamped Rialto Rockets of Dolphin’s Barn faced off against the converted Phibsboro Flyers.
The Dublin Flyers
As the ’90s approached, both teams found difficulties maintaining player contracts and keeping the managers of both rinks in check and new challenges arose to keep hockey alive in Ireland.
The core players of the Rockets and the Flyers found no other way but to unite in an effort to continue the progress of Irish ice hockey, and the new and reformed Dublin Flyers were created.
The Dublin Flyers set the standard for ice hockey in Ireland. They were successful as the longest-running team in Irish hockey history behind the original core of players. In 1995 and 1996 the Dublin Flyers won the Glenrothes Winter Challenge Cup and in 1997 the coveted Scottish Cup left Scotland for Dublin for the first time in its history.
The IIHA along with the IIHF and their hard-working and dedicated staff can now develop youth hockey with professional mentorship and guidance and offer a solid foundation for the future of Irish hockey. The commitment of these individuals has been gladly rewarded with the formation of the first-ever Irish national ice hockey team.
The Belfast Giants: A Story for the Ages
The Belfast Giants are part of the Odyssey Family controlled and managed by the Odyssey Trust. The Giants have brought Ice Hockey to over 1.8 million fans over the last 13 years.
But no success story is without its downfalls. To that point, sectarianism had long been seen as a significant problem in some sports in Northern Ireland such as football.
When the Giants was established, the club was keen not to attach itself to a particular faith or community, instead, wanting to represent Belfast as a whole. A number of policies were subsequently introduced to try to ensure this.
Particular clothes or merchandise that might display a person’s political or religious affiliation are banned and flags are not permitted to be brought into the arena. God Save the Queen (the national anthem of the United Kingdom), traditionally played before games at other arenas in the Elite League is not played before any Giants games.
These policies are largely successful and the Giants have quickly built a dedicated and enthusiastic fanbase who did not have to fear the sectarianism that poisoned other sports in the province.
At the turn of the new century and millennium, Northern Ireland was becoming a peaceful and developing country. People looked for something different to have their attention, and ice hockey seemed to be the big new thing.
After the club was established in 2000, it was coming strong. After 3 months of road games, they made history on their opening night in December 2000 by selling out the Odyssey Arena. Sadly, they lost their first official game but they managed to win the hearts of the nation by their sturdy and vibrant performance.
Over the course of the following seasons, the Giants proved that they are the best ice hockey team in the UK at the time by winning a league title in 2002.
They were also play-off champions in 2002-03, losing out on a second consecutive league title by a single point on the last night of the season to the Sheffield Steelers. Thus, the Giants essentially dominated the now-defunct Superleague on route to their first major championship. They were led by the impeccable trio of Jason Ruff, Kevin Riehl and Sean Berens.
To add to the list of names, Paxton Schulte had become the most popular player in the history of the Giants and the person people remember the most when The Giants’ name is mentioned. Truly a legendary sporting figure across Northern Ireland.
Additionally, the Giants hosted a mid-season qualifying tournament for the European Championships known as the Continental Cup with the winner advancing to the SUPER 10 Finals of the Continental Cup in Switzerland (Europe’s second-tier ice hockey club competition).
The Giants demolished the odds as they qualified directly to the Cup after winning 3 games in three consecutive nights and went to snatch European supremacy in ice hockey, presenting themselves as possibly the biggest underdogs to ever make the Super 10 Finals.
Although they lost to host team Lugano 1-0, they beat Swiss Champions Davos 5-3 the next night and did themselves proud and received standing ovations from the Swiss fans for their efforts.
With the Superleague’s eventful demise, there were concerns that the Giants would not survive as a dominating club because of major financial problems which had developed. However, with the creation of the new Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) for the 2003-04 season, the Giants survived.
Despite the setbacks, the Giants remained the premier place to play in the UK. For two seasons, they struggled to win silverware after finishing 4th in the league’s first season and failing to reach the post-season play-offs, but in 2005/06 the Giants once again was at the top.
In mid-October 2005 The Giants made an unforgettable move from their fans and signed the biggest deal in the history of British ice hockey; NHL All-Star and Olympic Gold Medal winner, Theo Fleury. He made his debut against the Edinburgh Capitals with the Giants winning the game 11-2, and with Fleury scoring a hat-trick and was named man of the match.
Fleury immediately became the new hero of Belfast and went on to lead the league, scoring in multiple wins. Despite a season-long battle with the Newcastle Vipers, the Giants won the League Championship in 2006.
Reaching Ultimate Stardom
The 2008/2009 season proved to be the most successful season ever for the Giants with the team snatching the Challenge Cup and the British Knock-Out Cup for the first time in their short history.
The Belfast Giants currently have one supporter’s club: the Official Belfast Giants Supporters’ Club (OSC). Their online appearance is formidable as well as there are several popular fan websites and forums that support the Belfast Giants in their own way.
Quick Facts about the Belfast Giants
Primary arena and training ground: Odyssey Arena (currently known as the Odyssey Complex, (capacity 5,800 – 7,100)
Secondary arena and training ground: Dundonald International Ice Bowl (capacity 1,000)
Uniform colours: White, Red, Teal, Black
Logo design: Finn McCool with a hockey stick
Mascot: Fin McCool
Motto: “In the land of the Giants, everyone is equal.”
Performances in All Tournaments by Season
As of 2019, The Giants have won 11 major honours, including five league championship titles, as well as three Erhardt Conference titles.
- 2000/01 – Fifth Place Finish
- 2001/02 – Superleague League Champions
- 2002/03 – Playoff Champions, League Runner Up
- 2003/04 – Fourth Place Finish
- 2004/05 – League Runner Up, National Crossover Cup Champions
- 2005/06 – Elite League Champions
- 2006/07 – League Runner Up
- 2007/08 – Fourth Place Finish
- 2008/09 – Fourth Place Finish, Challenge Cup & Knock-Out Cup Champions
- 2009/10 – Playoff Champions, League Runner Up
- 2010/11 – League Runner Up
- 2011/12 – Elite League Champions
- 2012/13 – Erhardt Conference Champions
- 2013/14 – Elite League Champions, Erhardt Conference Champions
- 2014/15 – Fifth Place Finish
- 2015/16 – Fourth Place Finish
- 2017/18 – Challenge Cup Champions
- 2018/19 – Elite League Champions, Challenge Cup Champions, Erhardt Conference Winners
Have you heard about the Belfast Giants Success Story? Have you seen the Belfast Giants, live in action? Let us know in the comments.