For the first time in four seasons and for the 12th time in their 17-season history, the Vancouver Giants are heading to the playoffs.
The Langley-based hockey team punched their ticket to the WHL’s second season with a 5-4 home ice victory Saturday over Kamloops in front of 4,041 strong at the Langley Events Centre.
Tyler Benson led the charge with a goal and an assist for Vancouver while Davis Koch chimed in with two assists. Joe Gatenby responded with a goal and three assists for the Kamloops Blazers.
How the game broke down
Fresh off a tough 5-1 road loss 24 hours earlier, Giants head coach Jason McKee’s troops jumped out of the gates with three first-period goals.
Rookie defenceman Alex Kannok Leipert got the offence started with his fourth of the season at 6:08 of the first with Ty Ronning and Davis Koch assisting.
Brayden Watts then ripped home his 16th of the season on a power play at 14:03 to extend Vancouver’s lead.
A few shifts later Hunor Torzsok ripped his first Western Hockey League goal up and over the shoulder of Kamloops starter Dylan Ferguson from the right-wing circle to push Vancouver’s lead to 3-0. Shots were 12-5 Vancouver after one and they led 3-0.
Rookie goaltender Max Palaga replaced Dylan Ferguson in the Kamloops net to start the second, but was rudely greeted by the Giants fourth goal of the game at 4:52 which came off a shot from centre-ice from Darian Skeoch.
Don Hay’s Kamloops Blazers rallied with three quick strikes beginning at 12:27. Joe Gatenby kick-started the Blazers comeback bid with his 13th of the season off a Justin Sigrist rebound. Then at 15:13, right as a power play had expired Jermaine Loewen knocked home his team-leading 34th past Giants starter David Tendeck.
Then a minute and six seconds later Kamloops moved within a goal when Luc Smith wired his 20th of the season past Tendeck off a point-blank chance from the slot off the rush.
McKee called a timeout and his troops responded brilliantly, said play-by-play broadcaster Dan O’Connor.
Less than a minute later at 17:08, Tyler Benson streaked down the left-wing and placed a perfect shot past Max Palaga and home for his 23rd.
Despite the 13-6 edge in shots to Kamloops, the G-Men took a 5-3 lead into the final period.
Shots in the third were 16-8 for Kamloops who peppered the Giants net with a handful of great scoring chances.
Tendeck was solid for the Giants, coming up with big saves on two Kamloops power-play chances, O’Connor added.
Nolan Kneen got Kamloops back within one at 7:05 of the third off a shot from the right point, but that’s as close as the visitors would come as the Giants held on in the final minutes to secure their 33rd win of the season and their 20th home-ice victory of the 2017-18 season.
The final shots favoured Kamloops 34-26, but the Giants won the special teams battle going one-for-three on the power play and four-for-four on the penalty kill.
With this victory, the Giants improved their overall record to 33-22-6-3 and their 75 points put them 12 points up on Kamloops for third in the B.C. division and three points back of Victoria for second.
With only five games left in their season, Kamloops can no longer mathematically catch the Giants and are only eligible for a wild-card spot.
Despite the victory and the clinch, the Giants won’t have long to dwell on their Saturday triumph, McKee said.
They return to action at 2 p.m. today, (Sunday) when they welcome the Western Conference leaders, the Everett Silvertips, for the third and final time in the 2017-18 season.