Less than 24 hours following their domestic opener and Challenge Cup group win over Glasgow, the puck dropped on the Belfast Giants League Campaign in Manchester.
Adam Keefe’s men were still without Liam Reddox, Jesse Forsberg and Patrick Mullen for the fairly tall task of going into Altrincham’s notoriously small ice pad and coming away with a result.
The Giants killed an early penalty, before their power play unit struggled to create a coherant puck cycle on their first power play six minutes in- a Kyle Hope holding call.
Curtis Hamilton responded by opened the scoring on the ten minute mark, beating Matt Ginn from close range. (Assist: Liam Morgan, Ben Lake) (0-1)
There was a strong shout for a penalty shot from the home fans just after the ten minute mark as Ben Lake pulled down a Storm body in the slot- instead just taking two for slashing.
Jean Dupuy was unlucky not to double the visiting side’s tally on a breakaway chance moments later, but Belfast settled for a 1-0 lead heading into the first break.
The Giants had another power play opportunity through a Cam Critchlow hooking call five minutes into the second, but again the small ice pad limited how much they could do creatively on the offensive cycle.
Ciaran Long headed to the box to serve a delay of game penalty, but following an almost immediate Dallas Ehrhardt one timer, Belfast did a solid job of keeping the puck pinned deep in the Manchester zone.
The game opened right up on the ten minute mark of the middle period. Frantic end to end action saw Patryk Wronka denied on a clear breakaway, with a stunning leg save by Matt Ginn.
Jean Dupuy headed to the box for interference as the period entered its final five minutes. Layne Ulmer struck the Storm level on the resulting power play, deflecting the puck past Shane Owen from close range.
Dupuy was in the spotlight moments later, airing his grievances with Mathieu Gagnon along the benches- with both men earning two minutes for roughing.
At the end of two minutes of four on four, Dupuy and Gagnon were far from finished, dropping the gloves right outside the penalty box. Dupuy ate a couple of big swings early on, showing toughness by staying on his feet and landing a few of his own, before the pair returned to the penalty boxes for five minutes each.
The game’s physical edge was noticeably ramped up as the second period came to a close.
The third period began with intensity. Manchester looked their most threatening of the game so far. Scott Simmonds collided with Shane Owen on a breakaway, earning himself two minutes for interference.
Matt Ginn pulled off a big double stop to deny a surefire Giants goals on the resulting power play, but the game continued all tied up at 1.
The Giants applied pressure as the game entered its last ten minutes, but just as they were knocking on the door Brian Ward headed to the box for interference. A big kill followed. The Giants kill unit were quick to throw bodies down to block shots, Shane Owen remained razor sharp, and the sides returned to full strength.
Matt Ginn pulled off yet another double safe with six minutes and change left in the game as Belfast, having absorbed a period of pressure, pressed forward. The pushing and shoving after the whistle a reflection of the mood of the game.
With nothing separating the sides, the game rolled into overtime.
In a heart stopping moment, Jean Dupuy railed a shot off the inside of the post in OT, with the Storm breaking up ice immediately and Jared Aulin beating Shane Owen for the winner.
Words: Joel Neill
Audio: Patrick Smyth / AVFTB
Images: Manchester Storm TV