The hours leading up to the puck dropping on a new season on Saturday almost felt longer than the Summer itself. All over Northern Ireland, Giants fans desperately searched for ways to spend their nervous energy, counting down the minutes until they took their seats at the SSE Arena once more.
Waiting for them upon arrival, however, was a mountain to climb in the shape of Swedish outfit Mora IK. Adam Keefe, Steve Thornton and the Giants backroom staff clearly unafraid to challenge themselves in pre-season with the CHL looming on the horizon.
Pre-game talk amongst the fanbase was of remaining competitive, seeing lines come together… and not necessarily of the scoreboard.
But Belfast, together for just a few short weeks against the team gelled over the past month, came to play.
A fast paced and physical early stretch saw Belfast kill an early power play (Morgan, Late Hit, 3.10).
Lewis Hook provided Belfast’s first real chance at the five minute mark, breaking rank in the Mora zone and flipping high over the crossbar from the slot.
A Belfast power play followed at 5.53 (Galvaby, Slashing), and after struggling to establish themselves in the zone early on, the puck fell to the tape of Ben Lake in the right faceoff circle- firing low blocker past Mora goaltender Isak Wallin to notch the first Giants goal of 2019/20 at 7.04. (1-0)
The sides exchanged power plays again in the second half of the period (PP Mora Dupuy late hit at 9.47 / PP Belfast Svanlund holding 13.09) before Mora struck even, skating the right side of the zone and passing to the slot for Canadian Niki Petti to fire home top shelf past Shane Owen. (1-1)
There was just enough time for Belfast to take another penalty (Leonard, slashing, 19.35) before a feisty first period came to a close.
Shane Owen had the SSE faithful on its feel with a beautiful stop on a Mora breakaway around the five minute mark of the middle period.
Aside from that, a fairly quiet start to the second was shattered at 26.31, as Patrick Mullen sniped a beauty of a shot from just inside the blue line mid-right, flying low once again past Wallin. (Assist: Farnham, Hook) (2-1)
The Belfast Giants had a noticeable air of confidence in the second, moving the puck well and appearing to shake off some of the rust of the summer months.
It didn’t take long for Shane Owen to prove his pedigree once again, snapping a marvellous glove save out of thin air to prevent a Mora equaliser.
Curtis Leonard headed to the box for interference at 34.15, something which did not sit well with the Giants fans as the referees had missed what looked like a clear tripping call in their favour just moments earlier.
After creating a couple of short handed chances, and with the danger cleared, Belfast had a power play of their own at 37.30 (Carnback, slash) and continued to press hard, to no avail.
A much improved Giants headed to the rooms with a 2-1 lead.
SOG: Bel 15-14 Mora
The final period was 1 minute and 25 seconds old when the puck fell to a poised Kevin Raine on the edge of the crease, with ‘Raine Gretzky’ hammering home his first of the season to a huge roar from the stands. (Assist: Wronka, Lake) (3-1)
A Patrick Mullen tripping call sent Mora onto the power play at 48.10, but the Belfast kill unit were a match for the danger.
They were also good for a successive slashing call on Matt Pelech almost immediately after the sides returned to full strength. Goalscorer Kevin Raine noticeably quarterbacking a confident and thorough kill unit alongside Paul Swindlehurst.
Defence was the name of the game in the final few minutes- Belfast’s lines putting up a wall for Shane Owen, who was precise and comfortable when called upon.
A Belfast power play (Petti crosscheck, 56.26) was fruitless, before a late tripping call on Paul Swindlehurst in the zone with 17.5 seconds on the clock.
An optimistic Mora timeout followed, but Adam Keefe’s new look Giants held out to claim win one of a mammoth season.
Same again tomorrow?