Young locals make home debuts for Belfast Giants

Home-grown young hockey talents Mack Stewart and Kell Beattie have made their home debuts for the Belfast Giants after coming up through the ranks of the junior system.

At just seventeen years old, the pair actually clocked ice time for the senior side for the first time on the road in Friday’s 2-0 Challenge Cup win for the Giants against the Fife Flyers.

However, fans had been keen to see them skate out at the SSE Arena Belfast and they didn’t have to wait long to get their wish.

Both players lined out for the return visit of Fife to Belfast for another Cup clash on Sunday evening, with both proving they were more than capable of getting stuck in.

Kell Beattie with his Belfast Giants teammates. Credit: Matt Mackey/Presseye

While a number of local players have pulled on the teal jersey over the years, it can be tough for Northern Ireland-born players to compete with North American imports who have grown up around a sport more ingrained in their culture.

However, with the Junior Giants now firmly established, there is more of an opportunity for young players to shine.

For Stewart, it is also a chance to follow in his father’s footsteps – Rob Stewart’s retired jersey number hangs from the rafters of the SSE and he now serves on the bench as the Giants' assistant coach.

"It's good to play in the same team as he did, but it's just unfortunate I couldn't get his number for it," Mack told UTV after the game, but when jokingly asked about the prospect of bringing the number 16 out of retirement, he grinned: "Nah, I'll just keep it there for now."

On the ice, with the crowd firmly behind both youngsters, the occasion certainly didn’t seem to overwhelm them as they took their shifts alongside their more experienced teammates.

"You don't really get nervous at game time - maybe an hour before the nerves kind of kick in," Mack said.

"But when you step on the ice, you just gotta play the game and obviously if you're nervous, then your head's not in the game."

The opening period of action saw the Giants forge ahead with goals from Scott Conway and Griffin Reinhart, the latter short-handed and just before the buzzer.

Fife did manage to get on the scoresheet inside the opening minute of the second period though, with a goal past Giants netminder Jackson Whistle from Jacob Benson.

However, there was more to come from the home side, with an unassisted effort from Ciaran Long and a powerplay goal from Jordan Boucher to make it 4-1.

Young Stewart was at the centre of drama late in that middle period, colliding with Fife’s netminder Shane Owen and resulting in Ciaran Long leaping to his defence when the Flyers objected.

Ciaran Long comes to the defence of Mack Stewart. Credit: Matt Mackey/Presseye

While there seemed to be no malicious intent, Stewart sat for two minutes for goalie interference – spending his time in the box to chants from the crowd of “He’s Mack Stewart, he does what he wants!” before emerging and immediately getting right back in the mix.

In the third period, Fife swapped out Owen for back-up netminder Andrew Little, but the Giants' scoring streak wasn’t over.

Conway added his second goal of the game to make it 5-1 and, while Carson Stadnyk netted a consolation goal for Fife, JJ Piccinich rounded things off with a sixth to give the Giants the comprehensive 6-2 win - sealing their quarter-finals place.

They now have a few days to regroup before travelling to Cardiff to take on the Devils on Saturday in their first league game.

And their newest stars just hope that, as the season progresses, they can continue to step up when needed.

"When I'm called upon, I'll be ready to play," Beattie said.