If there is one takeaway from the Vancouver Giants’ 2-0 loss to the visiting Portland Winterhawks Saturday, it’s this: you’ve got to keep your foot stomped down on the gas pedal, every night, in the unforgiving Western Hockey League.
Sure, it was anybody’s game until the waning minutes of regulation, when Portland’s Ty Kolle backhanded a rebound past Giants netminder David Tendeck for the eventual game winner.
And yes, the Winterhawks are a solid hockey team, improving to 27-15-1-3 with the victory (the Giants fell to 25-15-4-3).
But Giants head coach Jason McKee expects much out of his troops, who lost for the first time in regulation in 10 games, dating back to their 11-0 whitewashing at the hands of the Everett Silvertips way back on Dec. 27.
“It’s been a good run but it’s over,” McKee said. “I think you’ve got to have a bitter pill sometimes, to get things straightened out again.”
McKee was much happier with Friday night’s 4-3 shootout loss to the visiting Victoria Royals than he was with the G-Men’s outright loss to a Winterhawks squad that was without its two top forwards: Vegas Golden Knights 2017 first round draft pick Cody Glass, and New York Islanders 2016 draft pick Kiefer Bellows.
Between the two injured forwards, 110 points was missing from the visitors’ lineup.
McKee bluntly said that he didn’t feel the Giants were at their best.
“It’s disappointing, after coming off the way we played last game,” the bench boss said. “We had some chances, we didn’t score, I thought we missed the net a lot tonight. We’ve got to hit the net. Our execution wasn’t where it needed to be.”
He continued, “we talk about the war of attrition, doing the right things the whole time and that the team that’s able to do that is usually the team that ends up winning the game. These tight games, those things get magnified alot, and unfortunately, they (the Winterhawks) were one better tonight.”
It definitely helped the Giants’ cause that the Winterhawks had the WHL’s 2018 answer to Scott Neidermayer, in the form of newly acquired Dennis Cholowski. The Langley native and Detroit Red Wings draft pick moved to America in a deal with the Prince George Cougars, with prospects and draft picks going the other way.
Cholowski assisted on the game-winning goal late in the third period.
Both teams had to fight for every inch of the ice, every chance, every puck on goal through much of the opening two periods of action in front of a near full house of 4,154 fans at the Langley Events Centre.
Vancouver had a slim 20-18 shot advantage after 40 minutes of action.
The Giants began pouring on pressure late in the middle frame, their best chance to score being a juicy rebound that popped out to the WHL’s second leading goal scorer, Ty Ronning, but Portland goaltender Shane Farkas quickly moved over to absorb the shot in the crest of his jersey, denying Ronning his 43rd of the campaign.
Midway through the third period, Ronning was sent in alone on a beautiful seeing-eye pass from veteran defenceman Darian Skeoch, but was hooked by Portland defenceman Keoni Texeira just as he was going to the backhand. Curiously, Ronning wasn’t awarded a penalty shot even though he clearly was one-on-one with Farkas. Instead, Texeira was handed a two-minute hooking penalty.
“It’s a tough call for the ref at that time of the game,” McKee said. “I can understand his decision (not to call a penalty shot).”
With 6:27 to play in regulation, the Winterhawks finally snapped the scoreless tie. Giants goaltender David Tendeck stretched his leg out to put a pad on a one-time slap shot off the stick of Cholowski. The puck skittered out to the slot, where Winterhawks forward Ty Kolle backhanded a low shot that slid under Tendeck’s pad.
Portland’s Joakam Blichfield salted the game away, and caused a mass exodus out of the LEC, with 53 seconds to go in the third period when he spun around with the puck just inside the Giants blueline before backhanding it into the empty net, with Tendeck pulled for the extra attacker.
McKee said for whatever reason, the Giants weren’t sharp against the Winterhawks.
“We seemed a little lethargic tonight,” McKee said. “We just didn’t have that pop, there was no sprint to our game tonight, we had a lot of guys circling and a lot of stops and starts. We were hoping for good things to happen instead of going out there and making good things happen. I didn’t think we made it hard enough on them (the Winterhawks).”
Farkas was named the first star of the game, stopping all 31 shots he faced. At the other end of the rink, Tendeck was just as sharp, stopping 25 of 26 shots and was named the game’s second star.
The Giants continue their homestand Wednesday when they host the Spokane Chiefs at the LEC, with a 7 p.m. opening puck drop.
Two days later, on Friday, Jan. 26, they return to the LEC to meet a familiar foe, the Victoria Royals, for the ninth time. This game has a later, 7:30 p.m. start time.