Jade Galbraith still can’t believe he scored against the Boston Bruins 10 years to the day since facing them in a one-off appearance for Belfast Giants.
British hockey fans were excited by the visit of the NHL giants, who helped to make a game of it and entertain the 5,000-plus crowd at the Odyssey Arena and produce a night many still speak about now.
The Giants side, coached by Doug Christiansen, featured a few guest players that night to make it more of an Elite League select side and included the likes of Galbraith, who was at Nottingham Panthers at the time, Cardiff’s Scott Matzka and Sheffield’s Ben Simon.
And Galbraith, who later played for Braehead Clan, spoke of his goal that gave the Giants an unlikely lead, prompting many spectators to capture photos of the scoreboard and freeze that little moment of history.
“It was funny because Scott (Matzka) and I had played together before in America and David Beauregard was on our line as well,” he said.
“Before the game, I said “if we get a chance to go, let’s just cheat.” We weren’t going to win the game. If we could jump the zone or do anything, I wanted us to just do it and make it interesting for the fans.
“So, when I saw Scott going up the wall to get the puck, I just thought he would get it and no more, but he managed to get the better of (Patrice) Bergeron.
“I had a partial breakaway and I just remember looking at the goalie, who was Tuukka Rask and saw his glove down so I shot the puck and it went in.
“When you watch it, I don’t celebrate because I couldn’t believe it had happened. I wanted to take it all in and it was a cool moment and one of the highlights of my career for sure.”
For the Bruins, after shaking hands with Colin Shields, Ashley Tait and Corey Neilson that night, they would end the season exchanging pleasantries with then US President Barack Obama after securing Stanley Cup success with a seven-game win over Vancouver Canucks.
This game was their sixth in a seven-game pre-season and it hadn’t gone well for them, standing at 1-3-1 after a losing a weekend double header with Washington Capitals.
The trip to Belfast certainly helped as they went on to win their final pre-season game against Czech side Bili Tygri Liberec then started the regular season with a 6-2-0 record.
Galbraith recalled how the opportunity came about and what it felt like to come up against some of the top names in the NHL at the time.
“It was amazing,” he added. “It was almost weird skating out there and seeing those players. I played some exhibition games in the NHL and grew up with those calibre of players.
“But to see that original six team and guys like Zdeno Chara, Bergeron, Mark Recchi and Milan Lucic, who I knew from Calgary and used to hang out with him, it was also surreal.
“Doug Christiansen was the coach in Belfast and they arranged the game before deciding they would take some players from other teams around the league. So, Corey Neilson, who was good friends with Doug, he asked me if I wanted to play. I was, like, “Yeah that would be awesome.”
They took other guys from around the league such as Scott Matzka and some players from other teams, all of us playing for Belfast for the one night.
“We had one practice together before the game and I have to say, I thought we did unbelievably against a team like that having never played a single minute together.”
Galbraith scored in the 36th minute, with Matzka and Jonathan Weaver clocking up assists to put them in front, but even the most positive of fans would have known Bruins wouldn’t have taken that lying down.
By the end of the middle session, Boston had turned it around, with Tyler Seguin equalising on the powerplay followed by Chara and Brad Marchand putting them 3-1 up with a late second period flurry.
Bruins added another two in the final period through Lucic then Seguin with a penalty shot and the NHL side overcame what turned out to be a tough test. Perhaps even tougher than they had anticipated.
In fact, Chara admitted post game that Galbraith’s goal had them worried.
“I thought for a little while, we were in trouble,” he told the NHL website. “We just couldn’t capitalise on our chances.
“We weren’t afraid at all. We believed we would win. It was just a little hard right from the beginning because the goalie was playing so well for them. But, it is hard for the goalie to keep it up shot after shot for 60 minutes with the pressure we put on them.”
Bruins coach that night, Claude Julien added: “These are tough games for us. We had nothing to win in the game, but a lot to lose and Belfast had nothing to lose and everything to win.”
For Bruins player Shawn Thornton, it was a special night for his family who turned out in their numbers to see him – 24 all in sitting in the stands.
His mother was born in Belfast before leaving as a five-year-old and Thornton, who picked up two assists, made the most of the occasion.
“I got here pretty early and tried to drink it in,” he told the NHL website. “I enjoyed it, but on other side I was trying to be competitive and play with some effort.
“It was great and I think the boys enjoyed it. We all had a great time and what Zdeno said to the crowd at the end of the game was what we all felt.”
Now, 10 years on, Galbraith recalls the night with great affection and remains fiercely proud of their endeavours, despite the relatively one-sided scoreline.
He admits he and the Giants select were on a hiding to nothing, but he’ll never forget going toe-to-toe with the team who would be lifting ice hockey’s biggest prize nine months later.
“I don’t care if it was an exhibition game,” he said. “The fact they won the Stanley Cup that year makes it all the more special, so it showed just how good a team it was we were up against.
“It didn’t feel like a game per se, but we wanted to just get out there. This was for them to get an exhibition game, beat the crap out of us and move on. We gave them a better game than I think they expected and I was pleased with that.
“It was a bigger rink for them to play in compared to what they’re used to so they had to compensate for that and adapt. We had some good skaters and I had a lot of room out there, so they had to get used to that.
“If we played them 100 times, they would have beaten us every time so just the fact we scored and took the lead, it was awesome for us.
“We lost 5-1, but the fact we were leading the game at one point, that was crazy.”