by Troy Landreville
The captain came back to the Vancouver Giants Wednesday night at the Langley Events Centre.
But in the end, the scoring prowess of 20-year-old Victoria Royals right winger Jack Walker and the late-game heroics of Royals netminder Griffen Outhouse stole the show.
Walker scored a natural hat trick while Outhouse stood on his head in the waning seconds to lead the Royals to a 3-2 win over the G-Men in front of 3,127 fans at the LEC.
The Giants outshot the Royals 16-6 in the third period, had the visitors pinned in their own end during the last five minutes of regulation, and deserved a better fate as they saw their record drop to 1-5.
The game marked the return to the Giants of 18-year-old left winger Tyler Benson, a second round pick of the Edmonton Oilers in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft.
Benson, the team captain, returned to the G-Men earlier this week and in his first appearance this season, looked more comfortable as the game wore on.
But goals off the hop in the first and third periods stung Vancouver’s momentum.
Giants head coach Jason McKee said there was a lot to like about the game.
“It was a tough one,” McKee said. “That’s what I told the guys. You look at the third period, we deserved a little bit better fate but two goals early in periods, early in shifts, we’ve got to be ready to go there, but I thought we played a real good third period. We created lots of opportunities.”
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Benson was on the ice when the Royals opened the scoring just 14 seconds after the opening puck drop. Walker took a cross-ice pass from Matthew Phillips before firing a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle that beat Giants goalie Ryan Kubic.
“That was a tough one,” McKee said. “First shift, first play, we make a mistake and it’s in the back of our net.”
The Giants equalized 3:40 into the middle frame when Ty Ronning corralled a long feed from defenceman Darian Skeoch, stopped just short of the blueline, and ripped a wicked wrist shot over Outhouse’s blocker. Ronning’s missile bounced off the crossbar and into the net.
The Giants moved ahead 2-1 when Brendan Semchuk snapped a shot off a faceoff, which surprised Outhouse just 2:05 after Ronning’s marker.
Victoria made it 2-2 on a power play, when a fortuitous bounce caused the puck to roll to Walker, who had a wide-open net to shoot at for his second of the night (and season), 10:29 into the second frame.
Not long after that, Ronning had a chance to make it 3-2 when he was sent in alone on a fine three-way passing play, but Outhouse sprawled on his belly to stop his attempt.
Instead, it was Walker scoring his hat trick goal just 2:04 into the third period to put the Royals ahead 3-2. The goal turned out to be the game winner.
McKee hopes the Giants’ bad puck luck has a way of evening itself out as the long season wears on.
“Tonight we didn’t get the breaks,” McKee said. “Hopefully down the road we do get a couple.”
The message to the players, McKee said, is not to get down on themselves.
“I thought we played hard, especially in the third,” he said. “Some things are… the hockey gods. They’re uncontrollable. We’ll get our bounces if we keep working. Tonight was a tough one. I don’t think it was a lack of effort or compete or execution, it’s just a couple tough breaks.”
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The Giants now hit the road for a six-game trip, starting with back-to-back games Friday and Saturday in Prince George.
McKee thinks the trip will be a good thing: “We’ve been at home for a while, here, so I think it will be fresh to get out and spend some time together not only at the rink and other places as well and try to build that cohesiveness. There’s going to be highs and lows and you’ve gotta manage it. It’s a new day tomorrow and we’ll go back at it.”