(Photo: Andy Gibson)
On Tuesday evening the Stena Line Belfast Giants welcomed the Dundee Stars for a third tilt at SSE Arena Belfast and the seventh game overall between the two teams this season—including the pre-season game in August. Up to Tuesday’s game the teams had split the other six even 3-3 in wins. The Giants were coming off a sweep this past weekend against SG Cortina despite their shortened bench. The Olympic Series against Cortina offered newcomer Jim Vandermeer to get a feel for his new home as well as introducing some of the Junior Belfast Giants to the next level of play.
Unfortunately, in games where points are important, the Giants were 0-5 in their last five before hosting Cortina. Dundee likewise has been struggling having gone 2-7 in their last nine. For both teams a win was paramount as they took to the ice. The Giants saw the return of their players who had been in Italy trying to get Team GB to the next qualification round for the 2018 Olympics—Jonathan Boxill, Mark Garside, Craig Peacock and Colin Shields. Sadly while the Giants were beating SG Cortina back in Belfast, Team GB was being beaten by Team Italy in Cortina, eliminating their chance of moving on.
Perhaps it was in part the travel of those who were on Team GB that caused the Giants to come out with some lackluster play. Net minder Stephen Murphy played a big role in ensuring that the Giants continued to have a fighting chance until the rest of his team woke up towards the end of the second period.
The Stars got on the score board first just 35 seconds into the game off the stick of Scott Brannon. The score would remain in Dundee’s favor for the next 14 minutes as the Giants struggled in their own end, offering the Stars little pressure and plenty of space. Shortly before Mike Radja would ultimately get the Giants their first goal, the increase in energy from the team in teal could be traced to an impressive hit made by Darryl Lloyd. As a result the teams would head off the ice at the end of the first period tied at one.
Despite what would likely have had to be a censored speech if Giants’ player and head coach Derrick Walser had been mic’ed up, Belfast did not hit the ice in the second period with much energy and after some truly sloppy play that could only be defined as ugly, the Stars would find themselves again up by a goal, again scored by Brannon. This time though it would only take Mike Forney about six minutes to even the playing field while his team was on the penalty kill, though once again without the supreme efforts by Murphy between the pipes it would have been a different story. Not to take away from the impressive skating and stick work by Forney that earned him that goal, nor the impressive view of the ice that Walser had to pass the puck to him, but the Stars gave him almost half a sheet of ice and plenty of time to set up his shot.
While Mark Garside, who has been playing defense with the long-term injury experienced by Matt Nickerson during a fisticuff with Cardiff Devils Trevor Hendrix on January 16, sat in the box on a holding penalty, whistled at 17:29, Brandon Benedict would put the Giants up for the first time in the game with an unassisted, shorthander at 18:18. This would really be the tipping point for the game, as the Giants began to get their energy. The Stars, already perhaps a little fragile in the psyche given their recent abundance of losses, would come out in the third with less energy than they brought in the first two periods. This often happens to any team who gives up a goal so close to the end of a period, regardless of their current record, so is not too surprising.
However, the Giants would come out with strength and determination for that final frame and pot three biscuits; two in the first five minutes from Jonathan Boxill and Chris Higgins and the third with just under two minutes remaining in regulation from Kris Beech. As the buzzer signaled the end of the game the Giants had a 6-2 win that coach Walser could be happy with, at least in regard to the points. Undoubtedly he would certainly like to see his team bring it bigger and harder earlier.
The Giants return to SSE Arena Belfast on Friday, February 19, when they will host the Nottingham Panthers at 7:00pm (2:00pm ET). The last time these two teams played was the end of January when the Giants fell in the shootout.
Highlights from the game: