SHEFFIELD Steelers stunned British hockey today by signing goal-magnet Colin Shields.
The 32-year-old Glaswegian returns to domestic hockey after a year at French club Morzine-Avoriaz.
Shields had three successful seasons at newly-crowned champions Belfast Giants from 2007-11 and was a hugely respected captain there. It is a fair assumption that Giants were among suitors hoping to tie him up for next season.
Yet despite his links there - and the fact his girlfriend lives in Belfast - he has signed a one-year deal with Sheffield for the 2012-13 campaign.
It is a massive coup for Steelers’ coach Ryan Finnerty, who admitted recently that the club’s British contingent was not ‘deep’ enough.
And after the disappointment of conceding the title to Belfast last weekend, it serves as a tonic for the club and its fans, ahead of the two remaining league games this weekend and the Play Off series.
It is also pleasing to have taken a player out of Giants’ potential grasp...after all, the Northern Irish nipped in and signed Rob Dowd from Sheffield last Summer.
Shields led the Giants in points in 2009/10 and in assists in his last season there before joining ‘Les Pingouins’ where it is safe to say the style of hockey did not suit his own.
The forward told The Star: “I have known Ryan as a friend and opponent for years and he didn’t have to sell Sheffield to me very hard at all.
“When an opportunity comes up to play in Sheffield you have to be interested, it’s somewhere anyone would like to play.
“Sheffield came in early for me and although there was interest from other clubs it was not a difficult decision to take.
“Playing in France was a good experience, but I wanted to come back to Britain, where the style of hockey is better for me. Here, it is more like they play in north America” said the centre/right winger, who was selected by Philadelphia Flyers in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, a time when he was playing in college minor leagues on the other side of the Atlantic.
He said: “After college I had a year pro in the States before coming back home (playing for Newcastle Vipers and then Giants) and then going into Europe.
“I know it might seem strange coming to Sheffield with my girlfiend and home base being in Belfast. It would have been easier to go back there and settle down. But I wanted a new challenge and with Ryan as a second year coach there, it swung it for me.
“I suppose it is a bit of a reverse to what Rob Dowd did, although I am a bit older than him” said Shields of the 23-year-old Teesside ace.
Shields, whose half-cousin is Giants’ goaltender Stephen Murphy, added: “I suppose my going to Sheffield will stir the pot a little with the fans in Belfast, we’ll see how they react. But that’s the way it goes in pro sports. People and times change and sports people have to move cities or countries, some times.
“I have a lot of friends in the team and generally over there, but it’s time for something new.”