The esteem in which the legendary Scottish-born player is held was clear as rapturous applause and a standing ovation followed the fitting tribute, ahead of tonight’s Belfast Giants versus Glasgow Clan game, which Belfast went on to win 5-1.
Jersey retirement is the highest accolade that can be bestowed upon a player, and an honour reserved for the few who’s on-ice impact matched their cultural impact away from the rink.
Shields’ number, which will now be taken out of circulation, is only the seventh to hang from The Bridge in The SSE Arena in the team’s 21-year history. His jersey joins former Giants’ jerseys, 11 (Colin Ward); 27 (Paxton Schulte); 16 (Rob Stewart); 4 (Shane Johnson); 18 (Graeme Walton) and 44 (Todd Kelman).
In a glittering career for the Belfast Giants spanning 14 years, NHL draftee Shields won it all. On his way to amassing three EIHL league titles, three Challenge cups, an EIHL playoff title, a knockout cup, a captaincy, and a host of individual league accolades in Teal, Shields set the Belfast Giants record for most appearances (611), goals (245), assists (395) and total points (644).
He also broke the goal scoring record for Team GB Men, retiring with a string of medals including back-to-back Division 1B and 1A golds, which helped the side return to the topflight in 2018; their first appearance since 1994.
His retirement in 2019 was followed by an induction into the UK Ice Hockey Hall of Fame in November 2021 and now, after a long wait due to the Covid 19 pandemic, Belfast’s number 19 finally takes its rightful place alongside the immortals.
Speaking at the game, Colin Shields said: “It’s hard to put into words what this means. it’s a very proud moment. It’s an honour, especially for an organisation and a city such as Belfast, which means a lot to me. I played here a long time, I live here now and I’ve made my life here.
“If you think of the Giants; think of the last 20 plus years, there’s been a lot of success and a lot of trophies - I was very lucky to be a part of quite a few of them. We share memories of these good times, not only with players, teammates and coaches but also with the fans and, people that work for the organisation and the volunteers.
“These are moments and memories you always remember. When you retire, and you get to sit back and reflect, you realise that it is only then that you really appreciate it. Coming back tonight and seeing all the familiar faces and the fans is really special. It’s a real honour and a massive moment for me.”
For Shields, being a Belfast Giant and the experiencing the passion and support of the Teal Army has been the “highlight of his life” as he explains: “Someone said a few weeks ago that it’s more than just a game and more than just a hockey club. I think that’s true. This club unifies the city and brings people together from all sorts of backgrounds and it means a lot when you see the incredible passion and commitment from the fans.
“We saw that with the Challenge Cup win, and I’ve seen that before, when we won trophies. It means a lot to the fans, but it also means a lot to players to see the support from the fans too. They’ve always been behind us; even during the tough times. They expect wins and that pressure makes you want to make sure that you’re performing on the ice. It makes you want to win and there’s no place better than Belfast to do that.”
Steve Thornton, head of hockey for the Belfast Giants said: “Tonight was a very special night, as we recognise a true Belfast Giants legend. Colin had an incredible career and his impact for this team and this community, both on and off the ice cannot be understated. The love there is for him in this team and within this fanbase was so clear to see and we are proud to retire his number in recognition of his incredible contribution to Belfast.”