Junior Belfast Giant – Stephen Eccles leads his team to success on ice at Inverness

by “The Digger” – October 2012

Stephen Eccles, October 2012

Stephen Eccles, October 2012

Dundonald teenager, 15 year old Stephen Eccles is one of thirty one ice hockey players who have much to celebrate this week after a successful weekend on ice in Inverness, Scotland for the Junior Belfast Giant’s under 12 and under 16 teams. This was to be Stephen’s first ever time captaining a team since he began his hockey career at the tender age of four.

There are no other junior ice-hockey clubs in Northern Ireland to play against and so club officials, parents and players decided to look further afield for games.

This season teams from across all age groups ranging under twelve and upwards have been entered into the Scottish Ice Hockey League. Each team has to play a series of eight games and they face opponents in all parts of Scotland from North Ayr to Inverness. It was agreed to play all the games in Scotland as the Belfast club has limited ice time in Northern Ireland’s only full-time ice rink at Dundonald and were unable to offer return games to the Scottish clubs.

Members of the two teams, coaches, team managers and parents left the Dundonald area at 6.00 am on the morning of Saturday 20th October to be on time for the Stena ferry leaving Belfast at 7.30am. It would be a further nine hours before the teams would reach their destination at the Inverness ice-rink to commence their games against their comparatively well- rested opponents.

The under twelve team commenced play at 17:30 and after two twenty minute periods on ice they achieved an amazing win over Inverness with 32 goals to 2.

The under sixteen team, captained by Steven Eccles, and assisted by Andrew Hopkins and Jamie Scott, went on ice just before 7pm for their pre-game warm-ups under the watchful eye and guidance of coach Mark Morrison.

This was the first game of the season, and indeed the first time some of the players had actually played together on ice in a game situation. From the outset it would have been forgivable to think that the odds were stacked against the Junior Belfast Giants, considering some of the team had been up from 4am that morning.

In just over one minute of the puck dropping on ice, the Junior Belfast Giants team were two goals down to Inverness. It would take a little time for the Belfast boys to settle their nerves and get used to the Inverness rink.

The first goal for the Junior’s was scored by assistant captain, Andrew Hopkins when he put the puck firmly into the Inverness net at 1 minute and 24 seconds into the game. Steven Eccles levelled the score at two all with a superb goal less than five minutes later ably assisted by Shea Nancarrow. Inverness kept the pressure on and took the lead with a further two goals. Steven Eccles scored the team’s third goal at 11 minutes and 29 seconds into the 1st period. Inverness were relentless and scored a further goal 34 seconds later to take the score in their favour to 5 – 3. In the last quarter of the first period Stephen Eccles put the puck past the Inverness net-minder three times within a two minute four second period taking his team into a 6 -5 lead by the end of the first period.

In just under 4 minutes of the second period on ice Inverness equalised and so an on-ice battle began for both teams. With everything to play for each team threw everything they had into the game. It was Junior Belfast Giant forward, Ross Hancock who finally secured the team’s win over Inverness with the seventh goal at 6 minutes and 20 seconds into the second period.

The under 16’s netminder Chris Boyd from Ballymoney supported by his defencemen managed to keep Inverness away from the net for the remainder of the game and the Junior’s picked up a well-deserved win in this their first game in the Scottish league.

The final score – 7 – 6 to Junior Belfast Giants. Man of the match was awarded to team captain Stephen Eccles who scored a total of five out of seven of the Junior Belfast Giant’s goals. Stephen added these trophies to his collection of awards that he has picked up over the years. Stephen has attended ice-hockey camps in previous years including the Best of British Ice Hockey camps in Scotland and England, where he has picked up a number of prestigious awards.

The under 16 team who played against Inverness were – Stephen Eccles, Andrew Hopkins, Shea Nancarrow, Matthew McClune, Adam Wilson, James Taggart, Jack McGivern, Jack McKillen Murphy, Daniel McCall, Chris Boyd, Jamie Scott, Dylan Kennedy, Finlay Robinson, Matthew Groves, Ross Hancock, Ben Murdoch, Gabriel Bisaillon and Artem Muskulidi.

The under 16 team are now preparing for their next league game against Dundee Stars on the 10th November.

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