Giants prevail in shootout after letting Cougars off the hook
Vancouver blows 3-1 lead late in the third, but nets important victory in all-B.C. WHL battle
No matter how demoralizing a season is unfolding, there is always a new day, a new challenge and a schedule that sometimes breaks in your favour.
The Vancouver Giants were delivered the Prince George Cougars, a team that played at home both Friday and Saturday nights and then had to make the long trek to Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum for a 4 p.m. puck drop Sunday.
Coach Don Hay skaters didn’t exactly overwhelm the Cougars but they did rebound from a first-shift goal against and a late blown lead to prevail 4-3 in a shootout. Victory was theirs, just their sixth in 19 outings. They’ll take it.
“Obviously we didn’t like to give up two quick goals to let them tie it up, but I thought we recovered well, had a good overtime and the shootout was exciting,” said Giants’ head coach Don Hay, putting a bow on the proceedings.
The shootout went seven rounds with rookie Carter Popoff netting the winner and fellow rookie Payton Lee stopping the final five Cougar attempts — or at least four of the last five. Lee’s post stopped the other.
Jackson Houck and Brett Kulak also scored for Vancouver in the shootout, while Caleb Belter and Zach Pochiro connected for Prince George. Cougar winger Daulton Siwak had a chance to win it for his side in Round 4, had Lee beaten but struck iron.
“I got a little lucky there,” admitted Lee, who made 37 saves in regulation and overtime to bounce back from a pair of rough outings in which he was hooked.
Lee, 16, has started four straight for the G-Men since being permanently recalled from the Junior B Richmond Sockeyes. He was pleased to get another chance after failing to survive the second period Friday against the Portland Winterhawks.
“I talked to Don on Saturday and he just tried to put some more confidence into me,” Lee explained. “He just said: ‘Don’t worry about it. You’re in tomorrow. Keep going.’ That’s basically what he said.”
Hay seems determined to ride Lee — at least for now.
“I feel he’s a quality goaltender and I have confidence in him and I wanted to see how he would respond,” Hay commented. “I think he was our best player. He was solid throughout and I think he has to understand that he’s going to get the opportunity to play. There are going to be games when we’re going to need him to stand up and play like he did tonight.”
Popoff was ecstatic with his shootout winner, feeling he had played only so-so during the game.
“I thought I was fighting the puck and was a little down on myself,” he said. “I told myself I had to make up for it so I put it upon myself and got it done.”
The Giants appeared in control, leading 3-1 with three minutes remaining in regualtion. But they managed to squander it as they surrendered goals 28 seconds apart to Brett Roulston and Jari Erricson, the latter jamming in the tying tally with 2:25 to go.
The victory enabled the Giants to keep in touch with the lower echeleon teams in the WHL’s Western Conference where eight of 10 make the playoffs. Tenth-place Vancouver moved to within five points of the Cougars and four of the Everett Silvertips, the two clubs directly ahead of them in the standings.
The Giants began on the wrong skate Sunday when they surrendered a first-shift goal at the 0:36 mark to Cougar centre Alex Forsberg, who evaded Giants’ blue-liner Mason Geertsen and backhanded a rebound past Lee.
Geertsen made amends at the 14:21 mark as his rocket from the point created a room-service rebound for Taylor Vickerman. It was a WHL career first goal and point for Vickerman, 16, who was not supposed to dress but was a late addition when leading scorer Marek Tvrdon (infected arm) was scratched after the warmup.
Trevor Cheek put the Giants up 2-1 four minutes later, roofing a wrister glove side on Mac Engel during a 5-on-3 Vancouver power play.
Riley Kieser netted the lone goal of the second period as he beat Engel off the rush just one second after teammate Reid Zalitach emerged from the penalty box. The Giants’ penalty killers were superb Sunday, going a perfect 6-for-6.
The Cougars called up 15-year-old left-winger Jansen Harkins for Sunday’s game. Harkins, from North Vancouver, currently plays major midget for the Vancouver Northwest Giants. He was the second overall pick in the 2012 bantam draft.
G-NOTES: Friday’s Giants-Regina Pats game, originally scheduled for a 7:30 start, will now begin at 7 p.m. to accommodate a national Sportsnet telecast . . . Giants’ left-winger Cain Franson (head) missed his eighth straight game.
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