With the expectations of another run to the WHL championship on the minds of the fans, the Vancouver Giants raised both their 2018/19 B.C. Division and Western Conference championship banners to the Langley Events Centre rafters on Friday night.
But it was the visiting Portland Winterhawks who skated away with the two points following a 4-2 victory.
“It is nice seeing those go up. We haven’t had those in a while,” said Giants captain Alex Kannok Leipert. “(But) we just have to build that culture again because we are a different team from last year. We can’t expect to be where we were in May right now.”
The Winterhawks never trailed, leading 2-1 after one period and 4-1 through 40 minutes.
Tristan Nielsen’s power-play goal in the opening minute of the final frame gave the Giants some life but despite a 14-6 shots on goals advantage in the third, Vancouver could draw no closer.
The teams traded goals 10 seconds apart in the first period with Clay Hanus striking on a Portland power play before Milos Roman answered right back. Tyson Kozak would give the Winterhawks a 2-1 lead through 20 minutes before Lane Gilliss and Tyson Kozak added second-period markers.
“Second period, we got out of sync and we got a little frustrated,” said Vancouver head coach Michael Dyck, adding the team’s third period was a much better effort. “With the lineup we have right now, we are going to have to play a really smart game. We are young up front, our power play has to convert, and we have to stay disciplined.”
The Giants power play did connect on one of five chances, but the penalty kill also allowed two goals on four shots.
“We held onto the puck a little bit too long a couple of times there and just some undisciplined things,” Kannok Leipert said. “(But) you can take a lot away from that game. They played quick. They were good on their opportunities. They got a few bounces. We got a lot better and we are going to bounce back tomorrow. We will be OK.”
The Giants, who sit at 2-1-0-0 on the season, are right back in action as they travel to Kamloops to face the Blazers. Vancouver wraps up the weekend with a return game at Langley Events Centre against the Kelowna Rockets. Game time is 4 p.m.
Friday’s game did mark the return of Bowen Byram, as the defenceman was sent back to Vancouver by the Colorado Avalanche. And the fourth overall pick in last June’s NHL Draft jumped right into the lineup and finished with a pair of assists.
Next up, a trip to Kamloops on Saturday (Sept. 28) to play the Blazers at the Sandman Centre. Puck drop is 7 p.m.
Photos by Rik Fedyk