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The year 2000 brought about the new millennium and a new time of peace for Northern Ireland. The country was developing like never before, the people were always looking for something new and the sport of ice hockey was going to bring just that!
The Belfast Giants took the entire country by storm, and after 3 months of road games, they made history on their opening night in December 2000 by selling out the Odyssey Arena. They may have lost that first game, but they won the hearts of an entire nation and started an ice hockey phenomenon that still remains today. They were in dead last up until they began playing at the Odyssey Arena and they virtually became unbeatable at home after that, thanks mostly to the atmosphere at home and the sell-out crowds.
The next season, there was not a better team in the UK, with the Giants winning a league title in 2002. The Giants clinched their league title in January of that season, still a record for UK hockey. Led by the trio of Jason Ruff, Kevin Riehl and Sean Berens, the Giants dominated the Superleague on route to their first major championship. Giant tough guy Paxton Schulte had become the face of the Giants and their most popular player, leading the team in powerplay goals and fights every season of his career. Schulte was considered the Giant among the men, and had become a legendary sporting figure throughout Northern Ireland. To this day when you mention the Belfast Giants, the name Paxton Schulte immediately comes up.
In 2003 once again under the guidance of coach Dave Whistle, the Giants finished league runners up, losing out on a second consecutive league title by a single point on the last night of the season to the Sheffield Steelers. They also 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. The Giants won their qualifying tournament by winning three games in three nights and went on to battle for European supremacy as possibly the biggest underdogs to ever make the Super 10 Finals. They did themselves proud, and although they lost to host team Lugano 1-0, they beat Swiss Champions Davos 5-3 the next night. The Swiss fans were so shocked that they gave the Giants a standing ovation after their victory.
The Giants came back from Switzerland on a high and after playing a grueling 16 game preliminary playoff schedule, they met the Steelers in the semi-final game of the Playoff Final Four Weekend. The two teams had battled all season long and this game was another classic match between the best teams in the UK. The game finished tied 0-0 and even overtime couldn’t decide this one. It went down to a shoot-out with Giants superstar Kevin Riehl scoring the winning goal and goaltender Ryan Bach stopping all three shooters from the Steelers to put the Giants into the final game the next night. They went on to beat the London Knights for their first playoff title in their three-year history.
That summer the SuperLeague changed to the Elite League and Dave Whistle moved on to coach in Germany. The league was restructured to require non-import players into the lineup, which meant a lot of the heroes in the Giants line-up over the last few years would be moving on as well. Despite the setbacks, the Giants remained the premier place to play in the UK. For two seasons, they struggled to win silverware but in 2005/06 the Giants once again were at the top.
Ed Courtenay was brought in as player/coach and NHL Superstar Theo Fleury agreed to terms to join the team in mid-October. Although the Giants were in first place before his arrival, Theo immediately became the new hero of Belfast and went on to lead the league in scoring, picking up the MVP Award along the way. The Giants fought hard and despite a season long battle with the Newcastle Vipers, the Giants won the League Championship in 2006.
The next season, a disappointing run late in the season saw the Giants slip out of first place with only a handful of games remaining finishing in second place behind their rivals the Coventry Blaze. Last season after an injury riddled start, the Giants went on a 16 game winning streak, going all the way into first place before eventually finishing in fourth.
General Manager Todd Kelman moved quickly to replace coach Ed Courtenay who had decided to retire from the game after last season. He signed former Giant star Steve Thornton who had been the player/assistant coach in Basingstoke during the 2007/08 season. Kelman and Thornton had won a playoff title together in 2003 with the Giants and together plan on bringing the glory days back to the people of Belfast.
2008-2009 proved to be the most successful season ever for the Giants, with the team capturing the Challenge Cup and the British Knock-Out Cup for the first time in their short history. After such a successful season the team is geared up for more great things yet to come.
2000-01 – Fifth Place Finish
2001-02 – 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 – 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