by Troy Landreville
A run-of-the-mill Tuesday night in the waning days of what’s been pretty much a lost season for the Vancouver Giants wouldn’t be cause for a huge draw to the Langley Events Centre.
Or would it?
Thanks to the Giants’ faithful and an ingenious marketing ploy, the building was three-quarters full with 4,158 fans when the 19-43-3-3 G-Men hosted the 37-26-5-1 Victoria Royals in Western Hockey League action.
A big reason for the sizeable crowd (especially for a weeknight) was plain old curiosity.
People wanted to see what the Giants looked like wearing snazzy checkered-red tuxedo jerseys in honour of the iconic Don Cherry, and to support the Kidney Foundation of Canada.
Led by a fantastic goaltending exhibition from David Tendeck, the Giants didn’t disappoint, grinding out a hard-fought 5-3 victory to post their 20th win of the season.
Giants head coach Jason McKee loved his team’s effort.
“It was a good night for our organization in general,” McKee said. “Off the ice it was a good crowd, people were into it and it was nice to be able to reward the fans tonight. We played with lots of courage and determination. In our last two games, we’ve played the way we would expect to play — I think our guys are buying into it here and they’re paying the price right now and giving themselves chances to win.”
The one-off, for now, jerseys was fun for the Giants and their supporters.
“We’re going to wear whatever logo that’s on there that they give us,” McKee said. “We want to play hard for our fans and I think we did that tonight.”
Like the oft-truculent Cherry, the Giants squad that was once again missing its captain and leader Tyler Benson as well as key defenceman Darian Sketch, showed loads of moxie during the opening period, moving ahead 1-0 in the first period on Brayden Watts’ seventh of the season scored 3:03 into the opening frame.
It was more of the same in the second period with the Giants Calvin Spencer firing a bullet from the right boards that was deftly deflected into the net by James Malm, who was standing right in front of Royals’ goaltender Griffen Outhouse.
But the Royals’ Matthew Phillips answered right back with his 49th of the campaign to put the visitors on the board. Phillips’ goal came just 10 seconds after Malm’s marker.
Then, with Victoria’s Spencer Gerth off for goaltender interference, Jordan Wharrie wristed a beauty over the outstretched glove of Outhouse to put the Giants ahead by two again.
The third period started out fast and furious with Phillips hitting the 50-goal milestone on a penalty shot 1:16 in, after he was pulled down on a breakaway.
But Giants’ leading scorer Ty Ronning answered right back for Vancouver, whacking in a rebound just 1:23 later.
But the Royals just wouldn’t go away, inching within one after Blake Bargar scored 7:06 into the frame.
The goal of the night was arguably the G-Men’s fifth. Using impressive hand-eye coordination Malm batted a bouncing puck off the boards past a surprised Outhouse.
The Royals pulled their goaltender in the final couple of minutes but couldn’t put the puck past Tendeck, who was brilliant throughout.
McKee said solid goaltending is crucial to winning at any level, and Tendeck delivered just that against the Royals, stopping 39 of 42 shots.
“You need timely saves and you knew they were going to make a push and they did,” McKee said. “He made some real key saves at key times.”
Tendeck said he felt really sharp but gave lots of credit to the teammates in front of him.
“The boys really helped me there, cleared guys in front of me and helped me to see the puck.”
He made some saves that had building buzzing, especially late in the third period with the Royals pressing.
“It’s fun to make those saves, definitely,” Tendeck said. “It helps your confidence.”
The Giants play a home and home with the Kelowna Rockets this weekend.
Friday they are at Kelowna’s Prospera Place and on Saturday, they play their final game at the LEC this season, with a 7 p.m. start time against the Rockets.