For the most part, the Vancouver Giants suited their dapper, Don Cherry-inspired unies Saturday.
And the sharpest of them all was their 17-year-old rookie puckstopper.
But on this night, the Tri-City Americans were not to be denied, edging the Giants 4-3 in a thoroughly entertaining Western Hockey League match-up in front of 3,146 fans at the Langley Events Centre.
With the loss, the Giants dropped to 2-3 on the season while the Americans improved to 3-2.
Fast, end-to-end hockey aside, Giants head coach Jason McKee didn’t like what he saw from his team in the early going.
“I thought we were a little lethargic early,” McKee said. “I thought we played better in the second half of the game. We were too tentative.”
In their second of two back-to-back home games against the Tri-City Americans, the G-Men wore unique suit-like jerseys in support of the Kidney Foundation of Canada.
The Americans (who lost 6-3 to the Giants the night before at the LEC) were a team on a mission, fiercely determined not to return home to Kennewick, Wash. without a point to show from their weekend trip to Langley.
“We knew they were going to be hungrier than they were yesterday,” McKee said. “You try to prepare the group but we weren’t prepared for the pace that they came. They got us on our heels early, but I thought we settled after that, and stuck with it to the end, but fell a little short. You have to be real good every night in order to win.”
Both goaltenders were spectacular – Giants rookie Todd Scott on one end and Americans netminder Patrick Dea at the other – to keep the game scoreless through the better part of two periods.
Scott in particular frustrated the Americans shooters, making one eye-popping save after another.
“That’s the best word you can use — outstanding,” McKee said, of Scott. “He was the reason we were in the game. He was up to the task all night and he gave his team a chance to win the game and that’s what you want from your goaltending.”
The Giants finally broke the scoreless draw when Vancouver’s Milos Roman skated into the high slot and wired a rocket of a wrist shot that whistled over the glove of Dea and into the top corner of the net.
The Americans counter-punched late in the second frame when Tri-City’s Austin King-Cunningham crashed into Scott in the crease, taking him out of the play. This allowed his teammate Parker AuCoin to easily deposit the puck into the empty net.
The fact the goal was allowed, and that King-Cunningham wasn’t called for goaltender interference on the play, drew a deafening chorus of boos from the Giants’ fans.
“It was tough,” McKee said. “Things happen quickly. You like to think that maybe there’s a call there, maybe there’s a push. I don’t know how much (King-Cunningham) tried to avoid the contact. The game happens fast and their decision that it wasn’t (goaltender interference) so we’re going to have to live with it and move on.”
The Americans took a 2-1 lead 1:03 into the final frame when Jordan Topping moved down the right boards and snapped a cracker of a shot over Scott’s shoulder.
The loudest cheer of the game came at the 6:31 mark of the final frame when Cyle McNabb swept the puck into the net off a mad scramble for his first of the season to tie the game at 2-2.
The lead was short-lived. Americans captain Michael Rasmussen deftly tipped the puck past Scott on a Tri-City power play to put the visitors ahead for good.
The Giants had one final shot to tie the game and send it into overtime when Rasmussen was called for interference with 1:33 to play in regulation. With Scott pulled to make it a two-man advantage, however, Tri-City’s slammed the puck down the length of the ice to presumably put the game on ice.
But not so fast. In the waning seconds, Giants’ d-man Dylan Plouffe set up Dawson Holt with a beautiful drop pass. Holt wired a slapshot into the net to give the Giants some hope.
WHL suits up
Each of the jerseys the home side wore — complete with the player’s autograph — will be auctioned off with proceeds going to the Kidney Foundation of Canada.
Bidding is now open and closes at noon on Oct. 10.
The game was part of the WHL Suits Up with Don Cherry to Promote Organ Donation, presented by Re/Max.
WHL clubs in 17 Canadian cities are taking part in the promotion, with each host club wearing their own Cherry-themed jerseys for the occasion.
The Giants embark on a seven-game road trip starting in Seattle against the Thunderbirds on Oct. 10.