by Troy Landreville
The Vancouver Giants and Victoria Royals’ marathon hockey weekend finished its first leg Friday at the Langley Events Centre.
And once again, the Giants had to run without their captain Tyler Benson, who missed his 27th game this season due to injury.
Moving forward, the two WHL squads will likely be pretty tired of each other by the time the weekend’s done. In a rare three-game regular season series, they play each other back-to-back, Saturday and Sunday night at Victoria’s Save-On-Foods Memorial Arena.
The Royals kicked off the weekend on a winning note, beating the G-Men 6-4 in front of 4,125 mostly Giants fans, with a few very vocal Royals supporters in the mix.
The loss dropped the Giants’ record to 19-36-2-3 while the Royals improved to 33-23-4-1.
For the most part, the visitors owned the play, outshooting the Giants 47-27 (including 16-4 in the third period) while going five-for-six with the man advantage. You could argue that Giants goaltender Ryan Kubic was the best player for both teams and kept the game reasonably close.
Standing outside the Giants dressing room a few minutes after the final buzzer, Vancouver head coach Jason McKee didn’t mince words when talking about his team’s effort.
“It was unacceptable,” McKee said. “Lack of emotion, our system play, attention to details, our PK (penalty kill) was not good. They (Victoria) deserved to win the game. They were the better team. I’m truly disappointed with the group. Tonight was a very, very disappointing night for me.”
The Giants recovered from a slow start that saw them get outshot 6-1 early on, and by the time the first period was over, the Royals only held a 12-11 edge in shots.
But it was the visitors who struck first.
Royals centre Vladimir Bobylev potted the only goal of the first period, finding the net on a power play 7:25 after the opening puck drop. It was the sixth of the season for Bobylev, who has been limited to just 27 games this season.
The second period was a back and forth affair, with the Giants’ Ty Ronning tying the game 10:07 in, after a fortuitous bounce saw the puck land on his stick at the side of the net, and he tucked it into the cage for his 23rd of the season
The Royals moved ahead again 2:32 after Ronning’s marker. On a Victoria power play, forward Jack Walker tucked in a backhand shot under Kubic.
Later, Walker scored his second power play marker (and 27th of the season) with 2:05 to go in the period, smacking home a rebound into an open net.
But with 50 seconds left in the middle frame, Giants defenceman Matt Barberis brought life back into the building, and his team, with a seeing-eye wrist shot that bounced off the post and into the net.
However, it didn’t take the Royals to make it a two-goal lead — as in 38 seconds into the final frame.
Matthew Phillips took a beautiful cross ice feed from Bobylev and deposited the puck into the net to make it 4-2. The goal was Phillips’ 43rd of the campaign.
The Giants just wouldn’t go away and inched within a goal midway through the third period.
On a power play, centre James Malm battled for the puck, one it, and then fed a perfect backhand pass onto the tape of Johnny Wesley, who one-timed it into the net from the slot.
The Giants had an injury scare not long after when defence man Jordan Wharrie took a puck off the head in front of the net. He left the ice under his own power.
Victoria continued to make dash any hopes of a comeback. The Royals’ Dante Hannoun took a pass at the side of the net, turned towards Kubic and wristed a shot past Kubic.
Victoria’s Scott Walford all but put the game away on yet another power play at the 16:04 mark of the third period to make it 6-3.
With 1:52 to go in the game, Vancouver’s Calvin Spencer scored on a nice wrist shot to close out the night’s scoring.
The Giants need to recoup in a hurry when they face the same Victoria team Saturday night, this time on enemy ice.
“We did a little exercise where you talk about five important things that you need to win a game, and evaluate at the end of the day if we didn’t have it,” McKee said. “We didn’t. Give them full credit, they played hard and deserved their goals, but that being said we have things that are important to us as a team. When we don’t have guys doing that, we give up six goals.”