VANCOUVER - It appears Santa brought the Vancouver Giants a scoring touch for Christmas.
Mired in an offensive drought before the holiday — six goals in six games — the Giants exploded for 16 during a three-in-three Western Hockey League weekend that saw them finish Sunday at the Pacific Coliseum with a resounding 8-4 victory against the visiting Prince George Cougars.
All the goals didn’t result in wins, however. (It has been that kind of season.) The Giants were pounded 9-5 Saturday in Kamloops, which followed a 5-3 home loss Friday to the Kelowna Rockets.
So the goal-fest was more than welcome.
“Huge,” said Giants’ right-winger Jackson Houck, who netted a hat trick Saturday, a feat matched Sunday by teammate Trevor Cheek. “We’ve been struggling lately for offence. We’ve had to worry about checking more than anything so it was nice to get some offence from everybody.”
Houck, 17, is in his NHL draft year and was hoping for an invitation to the CHL Top Prospects Game in mid-January. He was overlooked for the showcase event but perhaps his six-point weekend might put him on a waiting list if another player can’t make it because of injury, or some other reason.
“Not getting invited hasn’t affected me too much,” claimed Houck, a North Vancouver native. “Obviously it would be nice to get invited to it, but I’ll just keep playing my game here and hopefully something happens.”
It’s also a big time for Cheek, a 20-year-old who might be in demand by contending WHL teams with the league’s trade deadline coming up Jan. 10. Cheek has 16 goals and 30 points in 36 games.
“I’m just focusing on the Giants and trying to help my team win and whatever happens happens,” he said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can. I’m more motivated to get myself a (pro) contract here than being traded to a contender. This is my last year so I have to make sure I don’t take any nights off.”
The Giants netted three goals in the first period Sunday as defencemen Wes Vannieuwenhuizen and Tyler Morrison connected on long shots and Kale Kessy tallied on a bank shot off Cougar starter Mac Engel. For Morrison, it was his first WHL goal.
Vancouver also managed to squander two leads in the opening period as Giants’ goalie Tyler Fuhr was beaten by Colin Jacobs on a scramble and Chase Witala after Fuhr gave the puck away and then deflected Witala’s shot into his own cage.
The teams exchanged another five goals in the middle period with the Giants again getting three to lead 6-4 after 40. Cheek netted a pair, one short-handed, while defenceman Brett Kulak had the other. Troy Bourke kept the Cougars close with two on the power play.
Cheek completed his hat trick with a power-play goal early in the third, giving him one at even strength, one down a man and one up a man. Mason Geertsen added the final Giant goal on a late power play.
“We’ve put a lot of work in practice in trying to put pucks on net, cycle and score off the rush and all that paid off today,” said Giants head coach Don Hay.
It was a rough weekend for Fuhr, who had to carry the load with No. 1 man Payton Lee away at the World Under-17 Challenge in Quebec. Although he posted the win Sunday, he was beaten 18 times in the three weekend outings and saw his personal numbers tumble to 4.92 GAA and .823 save percentage. It remains to be seen whether Vancouver management will attempt to secure another goaltender to partner with Lee before the trading deadline.
The Giants were hoping Liam Liston, 19, would serve as Lee’s mentor but that plan went sideways when Liston quit the team last Wednesday, leaving the Giants in a lurch.
Meanwhile, Lee’s first start for Team Pacific at the Under-17 tourney was a winning one despite the fact he surrendered seven goals (on 41 shots) against a Russian side. Team Pacific prevailed 8-7 in overtime on a power-play goal by defenceman Joe Hicketts of the Victoria Royals.
The Giants return to action Wednesday in a 7 p.m. start against the Kamloops Blazers at the Pacific Coliseum.
G-NOTES: Attendance Sunday was 7,105 ... The Giants dressed call-up defenceman Arvin Atwal ... Centre Alex Forsberg, the first overall pick in the WHL bantam draft in 2010, has quit the Cougars and is at home in Waldheim, Sask., awaiting a trade. Forsberg, 17, had 19 points in 31 games and was a minus-18. His older brother Jesse, a 19-year-old defenceman, requested a trade out of Prince George last summer and was eventually dealt to the Seattle Thunderbirds.
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun