The Elite League leading Belfast Giants face the defending champions Nottingham Panthers at the Odyssey Arena tonight in an important early season clash.
The Giants have been boosted in their build-up this week with the news that Jim Gillespie, former owner of the club, is to be inducted into the British Ice Hockey Hall of Fame for his service to the sport of ice hockey in Northern Ireland, a richly deserved accolade.
Gillespie originally became involved with the Giants in 2003 and from there took over the ownership commitment for the next 10 years.
Gillespie saved the Giants from collapse at the end of the Superleague era in 2003 and steered the Giants throughout the first decade in the Elite League instilling an ethos of community involvement and support as the keys to long-term survival of the franchise.
During his decade of involvement, the Giants won two League Titles, two Playoff Championships, one Knock Out Cup and one Challenge Cup.
“I originally became involved with the Giants because I discovered they were making a difference,” he said.
“For the first time I saw a sports team breaking down the barriers. For someone who grew up in Northern Ireland this was such a heartwarmingly impressive thing to see, people coming together, having a great night out with their families and friends. I decided to get involved.”
Long time General Manager and former player Todd Kelman spoke about the legacy of Gillespie.
“Simply put, there would not be a Belfast Giants if it was not for Jim Gillespie. He is the reason this team exists today. As an organisation, we are extremely grateful to the selection committee for electing Jim to the British Ice Hockey Hall of Fame,” said Kelman.
“He deserves it, and a lot of people outside of Northern Ireland or not directly involved in the sport might not understand his full impact on our team or this game, but those that know the story will see this is an honorable move for a first class human being.”
There’s nothing the Giants would like better than to honour Gillespie with a big win this evening.
Paul Adey’s side lost to Sheffield last Sunday and would like to set down a marker to the Panthers who edged a one-goal game between the two sides in Nottingham last month.
“They have a well balanced team and they’re going to be hungry,” he said.
“They have a lot of offence, they play hard and they have a good goalie so we’ll have to bring our ‘A’ game and be ready to go. These are important games when it comes to deciding the league title and they have a little advantage on us already so we’ll have to be sharp,” said Giants forward Evan Cheverie.
The Giants expect to welcome Chris Higgins back from injury but will still be without the suspended Adam Keefe.