The fans didn’t have to wait long to litter the ice during Friday’s Teddy Bear Toss Night at the Langley Events Centre, but they did so to celebrate, not protest.
It took just 3:34 as James Malm took a pass from Hunor Torzsok and wired home the game’s first goal for the Vancouver Giants.
It was a sign of good things to come as the Giants defeated the Portland Winterhawks 6-3 in front of 4,328 fans at the LEC in Western Hockey League action.
It marked the Giants first win this season against a U.S. Division foe as they entered the contest with a dismal record of 0-8-1-1.
Friday’s victory improved Vancouver to 12-18-1-2 while Portland — which had won eight of its last 10 games — fell to 19-15-1-0.
“I have said from day one, we need everyone in our lineup to give a complete effort if we want to have success (and) I thought our guys competed," said Giants coach Jason McKee, adding that his players fed off the home crowd's energy.
After a 20-minute delay while the players and volunteers collected the teddy bears following Malm’s goal, it didn’t take long for the home fans to cheer again as Owen Hardy stole the puck behind the net from Portland goalie Cole Kehler and deposited the puck into the open cage.
It was Hardy’s first goal of the season.
The Winterhawks would get one back as Evan Weinger took a cross-ice feed to beat Ryan Kubic.
But before the period let out, Thomas Foster deflected a Tyler Benson shot during a two-man advantage for the 3-1 lead.
Neither team would score in the second period.
The Giants got goals from Matt Barberis and Foster with his second, 2:18 apart early in the third.
Defenceman Jeff Rayman made it 6-1 with his first of the season at the 12-minute mark, but 16 seconds later, Portland’s Alex Overhardt scored off a scramble in front of Kubic, poking home the loose puck in a pile of bodies.
Portland would cut the lead in half with a power-play goal from Skyler McKenzie with just over five minutes remaining. The Winterhawks pulled the goalie with just less than three minutes remaining but could not get another puck past Kubic.
Foster was the first star, while Malm was the second star and Vancouver captain Tyler Benson, who led the team with three assists, was the third star.
Ty Ronning finished the game with a pair of helpers.
Kubic made 31 saves as Portland outshot Vancouver 34-31.
Eighteen of those shots came in the third period and the majority of them were in the final 10 minutes, which wasn’t lost on McKee.
“I thought we controlled the game for the first 50 minutes,” he said.
“And then I thought we showed some immaturity. We started to bring pucks back into our own zone rather than going north with them.”
“At times we took way too much risk in my opinion.”
The team got away with them but it could have been a different story had they not had a five-goal cushion, the coach warned.
The Giants play their final game before the holiday break on Saturday night in Victoria against the Royals.