The puck will drop on the 14th season of Belfast Giants ice hockey on Saturday night with the first of two pre-season friendlies against Italian side HC Bolzano Foxes.
Before Saturday evening’s game (face-off 7pm) there will be a special ceremony to retire the number 44, worn by Todd Kelman during his playing days with the team.
Kelman, an original Belfast Giant, wore the number 44 jersey on 419 occasions for the organisation across eight seasons and retired from on-ice duties as the leading scoring defenceman in franchise history as well as the all-time leader in games played at the time of his retirement.
Among the accolades he won were two league titles and a play-off win.
He stopped playing to take up the role of General Manager since then the Giants have won the Knock Out Cup and Challenge Cup in 2009, the playoff title in 2010 and most recently the Elite League Title in 2012.
This is the highest honour the club can bestow and Kelman will be the sixth player in Giants history to have their number retired following in the footsteps of Colin Ward, Paxton Schulte, Rob Stewart, Shane Johnson and Graeme Walton.
“I was genuinely shocked to hear the news and people that know me would know that I never asked for or expected this. I am really looking forward to this,” said Kelman and the vast majority of Giants supporters will recognise that this honour should have been awarded a long time ago.
Meanwhile new coach Paul Adey has been putting the new squad of players through their paces this week with two training sessions a day in preparations for the games against the most successful team in Italian Ice Hockey history.
Last season Bolzano progressed to the finals of the IIHF Continental Cup, finishing undefeated in their qualification round, including a win over the Landshut Cannibals who progressed from the earlier qualification round after defeating the Giants.
Adey seems happy with the way the players, even at this early stage, are gelling.
“The feelings are very good, I’m very happy with the guys. We’ve worked very hard for the first four days and the players have put in a fantastic effort. The key thing is to get in shape as quickly as we can, we don’t have a lot of time to prepare so overall I’m very happy.”
He added, “I think there are going to be some great games this season. A lot of teams have improved and that’s going to add to the competition and that’s good for the fans because you want good, close exciting hockey.”
Sunday’s game has a 2.30pm face-off.