A mid-week game with a seven o’clock opening puck drop was the recipe for a smaller-than-usual crowd taking in the Vancouver Giants/Red Deer Rebels matchup at the Langley Events Centre (LEC).
Hence the fairly large patches of blue seats in the corner sections of the LEC as two squads looking to gain some traction in their respective Western Hockey League divisions squared off.
The 2,277 fans who took in the game were treated to a back-and-forth battle, with Langley product James Malm snapping a 2-2 tie by wristing home a rebound of captain Tyler Benson’s shot with under eight minutes to play in the final frame.
The game winner was Malm’s second marker of the night and 10th of the season.
In the waning seconds, Ty Ronning scored his team-leading 20th of the campaign into an empty net to seal a 4-2 Giants win.
Going in, the Giants were riding a two-game win streak and had earned at least a point in each of their past four games.
Make it three wins in a row as the G-Men got by a Rebels team that was determined to stifle the G-Men at every turn.
Giants head coach Jason McKee was happy with the way his team stayed patient and continued to plug away.
“We knew they (the Rebels) were going to play with lots of structure,” McKee said. “We knew that if we weren’t going to get to the interior, we weren’t going to create offence and we did just an okay job (of that). We’ve got to be better against teams like that to get to the inside. It’s just one of those games, nothing came easy but we found a way to win which is exciting for us.”
McKee continued, “We’ve got to keep going. These are points that could have went either way and fortunately for us we got them, and they’re huge.”
McKee gave full credit to the Rebels, who were coming off a 5-3 win over the host Victoria Royals the night before but didn’t show any signs of weariness.
“They compete extremely hard, we knew that, and we knew that they’d take away everything through the middle and they did a good job of that, as well,” McKee said. “Our special teams battle, I think we won that and I think our PK was good and we snuck one in on the power play. And we got a goal late so that was what we needed. It’s a tight league, there’s not a lot to choose from many nights and fortunately for us, we got the extra two points tonight.”
The Giants were looking to redeem themselves after surrendering six third-period goals in their last outing, an 8-7 win over the Edmonton Oil Kings Sunday at the LEC. It was a game that saw Vancouver nearly cough up an 8-1 lead after two periods of play.
Malm opened the scoring for the Giants, shoveling a loose puck past Rebels goaltender Ethan Landers 7:48 into the game on a Vancouver power play.
Red Deer answered back on a seeing eye point shot that hit the stick of centre Kristian Reichel to tie the score at a goal apiece, with 30 seconds to go in the opening period.
Just past the six minute mark of the middle frame, the Rebels jumped out to a 2-1 lead on a goal that had a pungent odour to it. Red Deer’s Brandon Cutler’s shot from an absurd angle somehow eluded Vancouver netminder David Tendeck. The puck bounced off the near post and plopped behind the goal line.
After a stretch where they couldn’t get much going offensively, the Giants got back on even terms when winger Brayden Watts took a nifty little drop pass from rookie defenceman Bowen Byram before moving into a better shooting position, and, while falling, smacking the puck past Landers to tie the game at 2-2.
The Rebels scored what appeared to be the go-ahead goal 4:56 into the third period. At least one of the referees ruled it to be a goal. But the video review showed that a desperate Tendeck, channeling his inner Dominik Hasek, swatted the bouncing puck out of danger, centimetres before it crossed the goal-line.
A few minutes later, Malm potted the game winner.
Tendeck shook off the shaky second period goal, making 31 saves to earn first star of the game honours.
Next up for the Giants (9-8-2-2) is a trip to Kamloops Friday night to take on the Blazers. Then, they return home to the LEC where they’ll host the Kelowna Rockets Saturday at 7 p.m.