by Troy Landreville
Maybe it was the ugly sweaters they were wearing, or the fact they had only won two of their last 10 — whatever it was, the Vancouver Giants were in a truculent mood when they played the Spokane Chiefs Saturday night at the Langley Events Centre.
On Ugly Sweater Night, the Giants and Chiefs engaged in no fewer than four fights.
In the end, the Chiefs delivered the knockout punch, dropping the G-Men 5-2 in front of a small gathering of 2,972 fans.
Giants head coach Jason McKee said “a fight’s a fight and it’s over,” and was more concerned about the bad habits the Giants showed during the loss.
“We’re not a team that’s going to win on skill,” McKee said, candidly. “As the games go on we see that we’re not the most talented team but that doesn’t mean we can’t win games. We have to find ways to win games and for us, we have to play with detail, we’re going to have to compete, and we’re going to have to have everyone playing at the best of their ability.”
Langley’s major junior team was lacking in those key categories against the feisty Chiefs.
“I told the guys that they looked like a team that was fighting for a playoff spot and in the first half of the game, we didn’t have that sense of urgency,” McKee said. “To me it’s a major red flag. Our urgency level needs top go a lot higher. To me, this was a huge game for our team and I didn’t see that same sense of urgency in our players.”
The Giants had their hands full with Kailer Yamamoto, the Chiefs leading scorer and a projected first round pick in the upcoming NHL Draft.
But he wasn’t the only Chiefs scoring threat at the LEC.
Along with Yamamoto, his big brother Keanu Yamamoto, 20, and 18-year-old Hudson Elynuik also had 30 points-plus going into the night.
The refereeing was, to put it mildly, inconsistent during a feisty and fight-filled first period, especially from a Giants’ perspective.
Setting the tone was a wild bout between Chiefs left winger Riley McKay and Giants left winger Tristyn DeRoose.
Later, Spokane’s Markson Bechtold continued to pound Giants defenceman Dylan Plouffe while he was on the ice at the end of their tussle, and surprisingly wasn’t given an additional penalty.
Then, Giants leading scorer ate an accidental elbow from a Chiefs player and, hunched down, struggled to make his way to the bench.
The only goal of the period came at the 15:24 mark when Chiefs winger Taylor Ross skated on to a puck that was shot in and fortuitously bounced off the boards right to him. Ross proceeded to blast the puck high over the blocker of Giants goaltender Ryan Kubic.
The visitors made it 2-0 at the 4:09 mark of the second period when a shot by defenceman Tyson Helgesen somehow managed to dribble past Kubic.
The Giants made it a one-goal game on a power play 8:50 into the middle frame. Johnny Wesley took a pass from Tyler Benson and made a deft move to get the puck past Chiefs goalie Jayden Sittler.
The rough stuff continued after that with Foster taking exception to a hit from behind from blueliner Jeff Faith.
Then, at the 17:14 mark of the second, Plouffe tied the score at 2-2 on another Giants power play taking a pass from Benson at the left face off circle and snapping a great shot that beat Sittler.
The Chiefs responded soon after on a power play of their own, as Elynuik moved in all alone and slipped a cheeky backhand shot through the legs of Kubic with 1:06 to go in the second period.
The third period saw a rarity.
At the 7:10 mark of the frame, Giants winger Ty Ronning, all 5’9” of him, even dropped the gloves, going after Chiefs defenceman Taylor Ross after he laid out Ronning’s linemate Jack Flaman with a devastating open ice hit.
“They’re a team, they’re a group and they’ve got to look after each other,” McKee said, of Ronning’s response to the hit. “If he (Ronning) felt it was the right thing to do at the right time, I don’t have a problem with that.”
On the ensuing power play, Spokane’s Eli Zummack swiped home a centring pass from right in the slot past.
Later, after killing a five-minute major, the Chiefs essentially salted the game when the younger Yamamoto finished off a pretty passing play to make it 5-2.
The Giants finished the game without Bondra, Wesley, and Tyler Popowich, all injured to varying degrees over the course of the night.