Victoria Royals trip Vancouver Giants 6-4 in season opener for both WHL teams
Vancouver surrendered early goals, power-play goals, breakaway goals and chased the Royals the entire night
Wearing throwback uniforms from 1945-46, the Vancouver Giants couldn't throw enough together Friday in their Western Hockey League curtain-raiser.
The Giants fell 6-4 to the Victoria Royals before an opening-night crowd of 7,812 at Pacific Coliseum as they surrendered early goals, power-play goals, breakaway goals and chased the Royals the entire night.
Giants head coach Don Hay, in his pre-game remarks, mentioned the word “jitters” and “nerves” and there were plenty to go around for his group.
New goalie Liam Liston had a less than stellar debut as he was beaten on the first shot he faced, at 2:25 of the first period, after he misplayed the puck beside his net. He wound up with just 12 saves and couldn't make a difference when the Giants broke down in front of him.
“It seemed right from the first rim of the puck – it hit the stanchion – that it kind of put me behind the 8-ball from the start,” lamented Liston. “Anytime we score four as a team we should be winning the hockey game. The guys know I shoulder the responsibility for that one and they know I owe them one.
“I've played enough games in this league that I think I should be putting up a zero or a one every game and when that doesn't happen, it's frustrating,” Liston added. “But we've put in a lot of work over the last six weeks and we're not discouraged by any means.”
The Giants surrendered two power-play goals and another goal two seconds following the expiration of a penalty to Brett Kulak. They trailed 2-1 after the first period, 4-2 after the second and 5-2 just 37 seconds into the third.
Goals by Kulak and Nathan Burns made it close but the G-Men were unable to complete the comeback. Cain Franson had the first two Vancouver goals.
The Giants, who outshot the Royals 30-18, will have a chance for redemption Saturday night when they travel to Victoria to complete the home-and-home kickoff weekend. Hay wouldn't commit to starting Liston in the rematch even though he didn't like the “easy goals” that went into the Giants' net.
“I'll have to think about that one,” he responded when asked whether he planned to switch to 17-year-old backup Tyler Fuhr (no relation to Grant). “Everytime we had a push, we shot ourselves in the foot by giving up an easy goal. I liked the way we kept coming back at them, which showed a lot of energy and enthusiasm but, again, just easy goals. I'm not saying the easy goals were the goalie's fault. They were whole team breakdowns.”
Royals' forwards Steven Hodges netted the first goal of the new season as he converted linemate Alex Gogolev's pass when Liston was caught out of his cage.
Franson equalized for Vancouver three minutes later on a nice individual effort, coming from behind the Victoria net to beat Royals' netminder Patrik Polivka on a sharp-angled shot farside.
Hodges put the Royals back in front at the 15:16 mark as he beat Liston shortside off the rush during another Victoria power play.
Brandon Magee made it 3-1 Royals at 4:51 of the second as he was allowed to poke home his rebound after the Giants were caught up ice and never recovered. Ben Walker upped the margin to 4-1 Royals, going glove side on Liston after being sprung on a breakaway by rookie defenceman Joe Hicketts.
Franson brought the Giants back to within two, 4-2, when he converted on the power play with 1:40 left in the second. Hicketts then blew a screened shot past Liston early in the third to make it 5-2. Logan Fisher slotted home an empty-netter to put away the Giants after the Kulak and Burns tallies had made it 5-4.
The Giants scratched eight players Friday, six of them healthy, as they carried a bloated roster into the first weekend of the regular season. The more notable scratches were third-year forward Matt Bellerive, second-year forward Austin Vetterl, second-year defenceman Blake Orban and new Czech import Ales Kilnar.
Also watching the opener were 2011 first-round bantam pick Thomas Foster, 2010 first-round pick Anthony Ast (suspended), newly acquired defenceman Stewart Coyle and defenceman Arvin Atwal (shoulder).
Ast is eligible to play Saturday in Victoria after completing his four-game suspension for a check to the head of Kamloops forward Chase Souto in a pre-season contest on Sept. 5.
G-NOTES: Defenceman David Musil and forwards Nathan Burns and Dalton Sward each wore an 'A' Friday in support of new captain Wes Vannieuwenhuizen ... Royals new head coach Dave Lowry was a Vancouver Canuck draft pick in 1983, going 110th overall. He played three seasons for the Canucks before moving on to the Blues, Panthers, Sharks and Flames. Lowry, 47, was most recently an assistant coach with the Flames under Brent Sutter.
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