On AVFTB this week, I asked Omar Pacha what he thought about the common perception among the EIHL fan base that he is capable of assembling and coaching competitive teams on a comparatively smaller budget than most of the league.
Where he had his reservations, and spoke of Dundee’s growing spending power- one part rings true. The young coach has talent, and his Stars are not a team to be taken lightly.
The Belfast Giants (sans Jesse Forsberg) meanwhile were looking to bounce back from an agonising OT loss in Manchester last weekend, as the puck dropped on Challenge Cup group action.
Brian Ward took a slashing call at the two minute mark, an early test for the Giants sturdy kill unit.
Duncan Speirs returned the favour at 4.28 with a slashing call of his own, but the Giants PP unit failed to hit twine despite decent zone pressure.
Belfast hit Dundee goaltender Alex Leclerc in waves- their offensive system solid, but perhaps lacking slightly in clinical finishing and passing accuracy.
And this proved to be the story of the first period.
The Giants were handed two successive power play opportunities. First Jordan Cownie’s slashing call at 9.38, and then Dow for Tripping at 12.23.
With Dow in the box, an offensive zone turnover led to Kevin Dufour breaking away, scoring short handed past Shane Owen at 13.32 (Assist: Pearce) (0-1)
Bobby Farnham then sent it to 4 on 4, taking a Tripping call at 13.52.
A noticeably flat SSE Arena headed for the concourse hoping for more from the second period.
SOG: Bel 22-8 Dun
The Giants power play unit headed out for their fourth attempt at 24.03 (Marquardt, Slashing), but despite a few early chances, once again struggled to establish themselves in the zone.
The Giants finally broke the goose egg at 30.30, as Kevin Raine played a solid pass to Curtis Hamilton in the right hand side of the zone, his shot hitting the net thanks to a Liam Reddox goalie screen. (1-1)
The sides exchanged power plays mid mid period- first Kevin Dufour was sent to the box for slashing at 32.19, the Giants fifth unsuccessful PP attempt, followed by Matt Pelech for hooking at 35.22.
On the power play, Dundee struck again. Matt Dufour split two Giants jerseys at the blue line, burning down the slot before a sublime deke left and a snappy finish past Shane Owen at 36.57.
The Giants responded immediately. Jordan Smotherman forced a turnover behind the Stars net after the drop, feeding it to Patryk Wronka behind Leclerc’s right post, who found a poised Ben Lake crashing into the crease. (2-2)
SOG: Bel 42-11 Dun
Belfast began the final third on the power play, with Jordan Cownie having taken a holding call on the buzzer at the end of the second period.
This was negated with a Liam Morgan holding call at 41.30, sending the sides to 4 on 4.
Ben Lake ignited the crowd close to the ten minute mark of the period, mashing Duncan Spiers against the plexi in the Dundee zone.
A sloppy Giants turnover in the defensive zone was spared by a sensational Shane Owen glove save on the breakaway moments later. With ten minutes left in the game, Belfast needed to rally.
Unfortunately, Dundee was to struck next. And in sensational fashion. Yet another breakaway saw Anthony Beauregard skate the gut, dangling Shane Owen and slotting the puck home with sublimely soft hands at 51.22. (2-3)
A Giants power play with 2.25 left in the game was the ray of hope the home fans needed, as Cownie headed to the box once again for
Adam Keefe called a time out ahead of a crucial special teams outing, and the puck dropped sans Shane Owen- with Belfast opting for the extra skater.
Anthony Beauregard continued a quality outing by intercepting the puck in the Dundee zone, firing down the ice for an the unassisted empty net goal at 58.25. (2-4)
With 17 seconds left in the game, Brian Ward provided the consolation goal- sneaking the puck home past Leclerc from close range. (3-4)
But despite a valiant attack after the drop, it was to be too little too late, as the clock ran down and Omar Pacha’s Dundee Stars clinched a big win in Belfast.
FINAL SOG: Bel 68-18 Dun