Giants Challenge Cup campaign starts with double over Fife
The Stena Line Belfast Giants’ opening match in their quest to retain the Challenge Cup final went down to the wire last Saturday when they went head-to-head with the Fife Flyers.
What should have been easy enough encounter was nothing of the short when a Flyers squad which is showing great promise for the season ahead, despite being down players because of injuries, truly took the game to the Giants, and the game was forced into overtime after a thrilling comeback for the Giants.
Former Belfast Giant Shane Owen played in the Flyers crease, and was the busier of the two netminders throughout a largely uneventful opening ten, as Jackson Whistle took the start between the pipes for Belfast. Overall Owen, to his credit, had put in a mammoth performance facing 58 shots on goal.
With the Giants camped in the Flyers zone mid-period, early season tensions rose when Ben Lake and Chris Lawrence took a pair of two minute minors for roughing at 9.47.
The Flyers meanwhile killed their opening penalty, a Christian Hausinger hooking call at 12.13.
It was the visitors who opened the scoring against the run of play when Reece Cochrane got in close on Whistle at 17.08. And it was a night that Cochrane is not likely to forget as it was his first as a Flyer.
Darik Angeli struck the post from left circle with 3.30 remaining in the period, and Ben Lake had almost everyone fooled when he skated through traffic in the slot and unleashed a wrist shot on the turn with 1.20 remaining
Colby McAuley had the Giants’ first opportunity to level the game in the middle period, but the puck escaped the Giants’ number 29.
Owen was clinical through the half hour mark, most notably shooting a leg across the face of goal to pad away Lake’s close range one timer.
The Giants continued to comfortably outshoot their opponents but found themselves limited in the number of chances created.
The Giants were frustrated on the power play to close out the period, as Janne Laakkonen sat for hooking at 37.25.
The Giants continued to be frustrated in front of goal throughout the third. The Flyers continued to employ a gritty, defensive road game, and were content to sit deep and repel the waves of Giants’ attacks.
Reece Harsch’s delay of game penalty at 56.34 finally provided Belfast with the opening they were searching for.
Chad Butcher was the man who unleashed the shot to finally beat Shane Owen at 57.51.
In overtime the Giants rallied in the zone, and a Scott Conway fired from the point with the an amazing ping of the post completed the comeback after 48 seconds of to give the Giants a 2-1 win.
The Giants were on the road to Kirkcaldy on Sunday for the reverse of the fixture and it was an all together different scrap and they returned to Belfast with a 5-2 victory in Challenge Cup action this evening.
The Giants opener of the night came at 5.19, when David Goodwin fed Chad Butcher to break the deadlock for the second night in a row
But the Flyers responded at 13.05 when Cochrane’s shot was rebounded into the path of a crashing Zach Phillips at the edge of Peyton Jones’ crease.
The Flyers retook the lead at even strength in the middle period when Harsch’s shot from inside the blue line was tipped down by Shawn Cameron at 26.13.
But the Giants’ response was immediate with Will Cullen crossing the blue line on the left and working his way inside with some beautiful stick work, before firing home at 26.52.
Belfast got their noses ahead at 30.50 on the powerplay thanks to David Gilbert.
A rocket of a wrist shot from Scott Conway extended the Giants’ lead, short-handed, at 37.56 with Chad Butcher back in the box for high sticking.
Sharp-shooter Conway added the Giants’ fifth of the night at four on four, beating Owen from the right at 46.49.
The Flyers had a measure of reprieve late on as Ciaran Long served the Giants’ second too many men penalty of the game at 57.10.
However, a comprehensive penalty kill in front of Jones took care of the closing minutes to seal a 4-point weekend in the Challenge Cup.
The Belfast Giants’ Challenge Cup campaign continues next weekend against the Dundee Stars.
Jeff Mason’s side visits The SSE Arena, Belfast on Saturday 24th September at 7pm, before the Giants make the trip to Scotland on Sunday afternoon for a 5pm rematch.