A capacity crowd was on hand at the SSE Arena for the Belfast Giant’s fourth tilt of the season with Omar Pacha’s Dundee Stars, the first since Belfast’s 7-2 Destruction of the Scottish side in October.
When I say capacity- I mean capacity. The East Tier had been rolled out and face off was awarded a sizeable delay in order to get the thousands of Giants fans out of the cold and through the doors.
Pretty spectacular that in its 20th Season, the Belfast Giants are pulling these kinds of crowds mid-season.
Even more spectacular when you factor Northern Ireland’s crucial Euros qualifier with the Netherlands across town, the NI Open Snooker Championship at the Waterfront Hall… and Belfast City’s Christmas Lights Switch in the city centre!
…No pressure, boys.
FIRST PERIOD: DOW THE HELL
Defenseman Ryan Lowney made his home debut in Teal, meanwhile Liam Morgan and Patrick Mullen were Adam Keefe’s healthy scratches.
Ciaran Long was the first to seriously test Alex Leclerc in the fourth minute, ripping a one timer from the right hand side of the blue line which was tipped up onto the safety net.
Belfast applied solid pressure to Dundee’s Dun-D lines throughout the first ten minutes, keeping Leclerc consistently occupied, but the game had lacked any real fizz until Jordan Smotherman played a heart stopping puck across the front of the Stars goal, followed by a snappy Paul Swindlehurst wrist shot from the edge of the left circle.
Dundee earned themselves some zone time in the 15th minute of the period, working their way inside and forcing Shane Owen into a dangerous rebound off a solid leg save. The loose puck was pounced upon by Dryden Dow, who fired blocker side from the right circle and hit twine, sucking the air out of the building at 15.45. (0-1)
Belfast were stifled at the blue line from here on in, and any hope of an equaliser disappeared with the first period buzzer.
SECOND PERIOD: Garside Goal Not Enough
Belfast lit the lamp four minutes into the second. Following a pair of big saves from Leclerc on the right side of goal, Ice Hockey Player Mark Garside emerged from the scramble on the left post- drilling home off a Kevin Raine feed behind goal. (1-1)
It wasn’t flashy offense, but committed defending which lit the barn up as the game passed the halfway mark. Dundee, set up well in the zone, attacked with a volley of shots, but were denied by a sprawling Shane Owen and no less than four teal jerseys around the crease.
Belfast’s first power play of the game was frustrating- a Justin Maylan hooking call at 30.55. Frustrating because despite a strong cycle and particularly slick moves on the point from new Giant Ryan Lowney, the Giants failed threaten Leclerc enough to convert.
Shane Owen kept Belfast in the mix with his glove late in the period, earning yet another ovation from the huge home crowd.
Matt Pelech took a vicious stinger to the leg off a blocked shot on the edge of the final minute. With the Giants Captain visibly feeling the after-effects on the edge of the crease, Dundee struck from mid slot on the power play (Leonard, Tripping). Anthony Beauregard found himself in a world of space and shot high- beating Owen at 38.49. (1-2)
THIRD PERIOD: “Somebody’s Gotta Put On Their Cape” -Cam Lewis
Belfast’s woes were compounded in the first minute of the final period, when Kevin Dufour notched a period-straddling power play marker (Hamilton, Hooking, 39.36), Dundee’s second of the night. (1-3)
The home side’s frustration was visible as the minutes ticked away. Bobby Farnham took a stick to the face behind Leclerc’s net courtesy of goal scorer Dryden Dow, and the Giants second power play of the night provided a glimmer of hope, at least for a couple of minutes.
Jordan Smotherman came close on a wraparound as the game edged into its final ten minutes, and with that the sense of urgency in the building noticeably soared.#
Ben Lake was next to come agonisingly close, taking a lateral pass across the zone well before slightly overstretching on the shot.
Shane Owen headed for the bench with 2 minutes and change left in the game. Belfast stuttered, failing to find cohesion on offense. Leclerc kicked the right leg for a solid stop to deny what little O the Giants could muster.
Adam Keefe called a timeout with 1.04 left on the clock, as the stands emptied.
A Dundee empty netter (Marquardht) and late Giants consolation goal (Farnham) made the score 4-2 in the dying seconds, but it was immaterial in a game which was dead and buried long ago.
AVFTB POST GAME INTERVIEWS:
“To what extent is the lack of goalscoring a concern- would you look at bringing another guy in?”
“We just gotta grind it out…”