The Belfast Giants returned home from the conclusion of their CHL campaign in Sweden with an opportunity to renew their focus. Not only was the CHL in the books, but they had squeaked into the knockout stages of the Challenge Cup- in what was otherwise a Glasgow weekender to forget.
What mattered now, especially in the face of their goose egg on the road in all competitions so far this season, was League points.
A home Double Header against the last placed Manchester Storm was as good a time as any to start turning things around.
Mark Garside’s 500th game in Teal was acknowledged in a presentation ahead of faceoff- a tremendous achievement for the humble Scot who has been nothing short of a sensational servant to the club for a decade.
And in cowbell news, somebody among the travelling Manchester Storm fanbase brought along a cowbell. It’s something you love to see. Big cowbell guy.
FIRST PERIOD: Farns is LIT UP. Smo is LIT UP. Everyone is LIT UP.
The game was just 8 seconds old when Cam Critchlow took a tripping call- which must be some kind of record. Belfast looked eager from the drop, but the sides were levelled out at 4 on 4 when Brian Ward took a hooking call of his own.
Patryk Wronka looked particularly sharp, getting a decent shot off on the backhand at 4 on 4.
But it was The Wrecking Ball Bobby Farnham who brought the barn to life at 3:11, tucking home shorthanded and, in his Ongoing Quest To Break Every Pane Of Plexi In The Arena™, tried to put his fist through tonight’s chosen window in celebration. (1-0)
Farnham had obviously sparked the bench with his early efforts. Minutes later, Jordan Smotherman took exception to Declan Balmer’s very existence, dropping the gloves to deafening thunder from the stands. A decent tilt ended with both men still on their feet- Smotherman probably edging it with more landed shots.
With five left in the period, Ben Lake was unlucky not to make it 2, deploying his wizard hands which were denied by the reactions of a sharp looking Matt Ginn.
Paul Swindlehurst was intercepted at the blue line inside the last minute of the period, but Shane Owen- who had enjoyed a quiet night so far- was razor sharp on the shot.
However, with just 12 seconds left in the period ‘Big Game’ Layne Ulmer stripped Mark Garside of the puck in the slot, firing home and sucking the air out of the arena. (1-1)
What should have been an ovation was just a smattering of applause as the sides headed for the tunnel locked at 1.
SECOND PERIOD: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
Jordan Smotherman, released from hockey jail, sauced the puck from the top of the right circle on an early second period power play, finding the stick of Brian Ward who struck home Belfast’s second at 21.53. (2-1)
Like a Cockney Gangster, Curtis Leonard went looking for a fight in the West End at 23.48, earning himself nothing but a roughing call which the Giants could have done without.
Luckily for him, Kevin Raine loves blocking shots with the Giants kill unit more than I love my own family.
What unfolded at this point was… a bit of a nightmare.
Manchester struck twice in less than 30 seconds, beating Shane Owen just inside the blue line on either side of the zone (Ulwick 2-2 / Grewal 2-3) in the 27th minute of the game.
And if the stunned silence in the arena wasn’t just stunned quite enough- Giants Head Coach Adam Keefe had seen enough, pulling Owen from the game in favour of veteran backstop Stephen Murphy.
Belfast, perhaps gripping the stick a little too tight, had gone back to low percentage shots on Matt Ginn in the Storm zone- an issue which has plagued them on the road- and a frustrating middle period ended with the visitors edging the lead. To be fair, a sensational sprawling Murphy stop at the bottom of the period prevented it from being any worse.
THIRD PERIOD: Lake ‘At Do Ye?
The home crowd worked hard to rally their team as action got underway in the final period- but an early press was halted when Liam Reddox sat for hooking at 45.35.
Bobby Farnham had a pair of decent opportunities to strike the sides level mid period, first fanning on a zipper to the back door, and then finding himself alone mid zone moments later- but unable to find the angle on the left hand side of goal.
But it was Ben Lake to the rescue at 49.44, roofing the puck past Matt Ginn on the edge of the crease to a huge sigh of relief from the Teal Army. (3-3)
Belfast threw the kitchen sink forward in the final four minutes of the game, in an almost constant attack on Matt Ginn’s net.
Ben Lake almost set Liam Morgan up from behind the net, his snap from the edge of the crease falling into Ginn’s chest. I legitimately nearly passed out seconds later when Jean Dupuy rang the crossbar. But Belfast had to settle for a point, and the prospect of 3 on 3 OT.
Curtis Hamilton, Ben Lake and Curtis Leonard were tasked with the first shift of OT.
Jordan Smotherman found himself in a one on one a minute in, firing wide right.
Bobby Farnham snapped one into Ginn’s glove, before a goaltender mishandle almost sealed the deal.
Stephen Murphy brought the arena to its feet with 2 minutes left, pulling off a double stop with a little help from his left post.
A Coaches Challenge led to a tense goal review, but referee Dean Smith waved it off, and the shootout loomed.
SHOOTOUT (Best of 5)
BEL: WARD X
MAN: PUSKARICH 0-1
BEL: LAKE 1-1
MAN: FAWCETT 1-2
BEL: SMOTHERMAN (hits post) X
MAN: THOMPSON X
BEL: HAMILTON X
MAN: AULIN 1-3
An eventual Manchester shootout win now leaves the Belfast Giants without a regulation win in six games.
AVFTB POST GAME INTERVIEWS:
Matt Pelech: “That wasn’t acceptable on our part. It’s going to be different tomorrow.”
Curtis Leonard: “We have to rally around as team mates, and bring each other together.”
Words: Joel Neill
Audio: Joel Neill / AVFTB
Images: William Cherry / PressEye