Colin Shields, the all-time leading scorer for the Belfast Giants, Team GB, and the Elite League, has announced his plans to retire at the end of the season.
The news that fans had hoped may still be at least a year or two away has been met with a flood of calls to retire the long-serving forward’s number 19 jersey.
The 39-year-old has spent 11 seasons in teal, lifting trophies for Belfast and helping Team GB to gold medals and the top flight of international hockey, breaking plenty of records along the way.
Although Scottish-born, Shields has long since been recognised as an adopted local, putting down roots in Northern Ireland with wife Claire and combining playing for the Giants with running his own business – Total Performance gym in Dundonald.
“From the moment I first put on a pair of skates and picked up a hockey stick, all I wanted to do was play ice hockey,” Shields said.
“I loved the game, the training, the practices, everything about skating on that ice.
“However, at some point it has to come to an end and for me that time is now.
“After playing hockey for over 30 years - 15 as a full-time professional - this upcoming weekend shall be my final regular season games as a hockey player, as a Belfast Giant.”
The Giants have already picked up two trophies this season – the Challenge Cup for the second year running, and the Erhardt Conference.
And before Sheds finally gets to hang up those skates, they remain hot on the heels of league leaders Cardiff Devils, ensuring a thrilling race to the finish before the action moves to the Playoffs and more coveted silverware up for grabs.
Then, what a way to sign off, back in action with Team GB as they take on the best sides in the world after their hard-earned and historic promotion to the top division of international hockey.
“I have talked many times about how amazing this game is, how grateful and lucky we are to be able to play a game every day,” Shields said.
“I have been able to travel the world, play with and against some of the best players on the planet. I look back on the last 30 years and I am so thankful for all the memories and friendships I have made.
“I never thought this day would actually come - heading into this season, I felt like I could play until I was 45! But the time is right and I am looking forward to the next chapter in my life.”
Full of thanks to all those who influenced and supported his career along the way – from family and friends, to coaches, backroom staff, and teammates past and present - Shields’ affinity for the Giants organisation remains clear.
“I hope that I am able to continue to be involved in the off-ice part of the Giants and continue to help grow this amazing brand and organisation,” he added.
“Ice hockey, I gave you everything and you didn’t let me down, for that I am forever grateful. Now let’s enjoy these last few moments together.”
It’s not over until it’s over, but it’s hard to imagine a not-too-distant future in which that number 19 jersey doesn’t grace the rafters of the SSE Arena.