There was neither fear nor intimidation nor awe for the Vancouver Giants going up against the best team not only in the Western Hockey League, but also ranked No. 1 among all Canadian Hockey League clubs.
Adding to the intrigue was the fact the game was broadcast nationally on Sportnet and even picked up by the NHL Network. And there were 100-plus NHL scouts and general managers in attendance for the game, which was played Thursday night at Langley Events Centre.
Call it a measuring stick for the Giants to see where they stacked up against what has been the gold standard all season in the league and Vancouver showed they were up for the challenge.
Davis Koch scored twice while Brayden Watts had the other in a 3-1 win over the Prince Albert Raiders. Goaltender Trent Miner, who was not selected for the CHL’s Top Prospects Game the night before in Red Deer, delivered 31 saves in the victory.
Asked if this was his Top Prospects Game by the assembled media, Miner shut down that notion as quickly as he turned aside the Prince Albert shooters.
“At the start of the year I didn’t try out for the Top Prospects Game, I tried out for the Vancouver Giants,” Miner said.
Miner outdueled Prince Albert’s Ian Scott at the other end of the ice. Scott, a Toronto Maple Leafs draft pick, had 25 saves as only two pucks eluded him, the third an empty-net marker from Koch to seal the victory.
The two goaltenders sit one-two in both goals against average and save percentage, with Scott leading in both at 1.80 and .936 compared to Miner’s 1.88 and .933. Of course, the Raiders’ netminder has done his in a larger sample size, playing in 35 games to Miner’s 19.
Coming into the game, the talk has been about Prince Albert’s season-long exploits.
They lead the league in goals for (216) and are second in goals against (106) as they have run roughshod over the rest of the league, compiling a record of 40-6-0-2. But the Giants have been no slouches either, as they improved to 30-12-2-0 and with 62 points lead the B.C. Division by 15 points and are six points back (with three games in hand) of top spot in the Western Conference.
“We knew we weren’t going to beat them in a track meet. We are a skilled team too. but we were going to have to win a playoff style game tonight. They way we killed (penalties), blocked shots, put the puck deep … was huge for us,” Miner said.
After neither team scored in the first period, Brayden Watts struck off the rush 13:15 into the middle stanza, taking a feed from Milos Roman and snapping home his 11th. Miner also picked up an assist on the play.
Davis Koch added an insurance marker at the eight-minute mark of the third. Lukas Svejkovsky chipped the puck to Koch and the Giants leading scorer got a step on the defender and beating Scott to extend the lead. And that goal proved huge as Prince Albert’s Brayden Pachal point-shot hit a stick in front and snuck under Miner to make it 2-1 with 98 seconds to play. But Koch sealed his team’s seventh-straight victory, lofting a back-hander from centre ice a minutes later.
Coach Michael Dyck said a victory like this – his team’s seventh straight – can do a lot for the confidence.
“Right from the first shift, (Prince Albert) came as advertised. We had a game plan and I think the guys did a great job sticking to it,” Dyck said. “That is probably as close to a playoff game as we have played. Playoff game in a playoff atmosphere on national television and I thought we responded well.”
Vancouver’s Bowen Byram, who did play in the Top Prospects Game the night before, said the players had been looking forward to this game all season.
“It was definitely a game we had circled for a long time so to get two points was huge. They are a high-octane, high-offence team and we saw that tonight,” he said. “They have a lot of speed, but we handled it well and we countered it well. Our neutral zone, forecheck, breakouts, everything was crisp tonight.”
The key was not to get frustrated and stray from the game plan, which is easier said than done.
“But against a team like that, things don’t come easy. If you go away from your game, you are going to get slapped in the face, so you just have to stick to your (plan),” Byram said.
Byram also credited Miner for coming up big when called upon.
“He definitely made some saves he didn’t have any business making.”
Giants play their next game on Saturday, in Kelowna, then back on home ice against the Rockets again Sunday afternoon.
BY THE NUMBERS:
• Final score: Vancouver 3 – Prince Albert 1
• Final shots: 32-28 Prince Albert
• Trent Miner: 31/32 saves for Vancouver (14-3-1-0)
• Ian Scott: 25/27 saves for Prince Albert (28-5-0-2)
• Prince Albert power play: 0/4
• Vancouver power play: 0/1
• 3 Stars: 1) Trent Miner (VAN – 31 saves); 2) Davis Koch (VAN – two goals); and 3. Brett Leason (PA – eight shots on goal)
• The Vancouver Giants went a perfect 6-0 this season against Eastern division teams following Thursday’s win over the Raiders.
• Koch has scored in each of his past six games, and has seven total goals in that span. His point streak was extended to seven games. During that span he’s notched seven goals and nine assists for 16 points.
• With this win, Miner’s save percentage improved to .933 and his goals-against-average improved to 1.86. He trails only Prince Albert’s Scott in both categories.
• The Giants have arrived at the 30-win mark 12 games faster than they did a season ago. Last season through 44 games the Giants were 24-14-4-2.