(Photo: Darren Kidd/Press Eye)
As the puck dropped on the game between the Belfast Giants and the Braehead Clan on Saturday at the SSE Arena Belfast, it was a must-win night for the Clan if they had hopes of having a chance to vie for the Challenge Cup. The Giants would have none of it.
The first period saw a strong Giants team taking control of the ice that resulted in both Blair Riley and Chris Higgins getting on the board. Meanwhile Stephen Murphy was standing strong between the pipes, making sure to deny any opportunities that the Clan might have thought they had. As the period came to an end, not only were the Giants up by two goals, but they had outshot Braehead 16-4.
Riley’s goal, notched just 3:36 into the first, was assisted by Matt Towe and Jonathan Boxhill. Towe began his season with the Giants on a temporary contract, but became a permanent member of the team for the season when he signed a one-year deal that was announced on October 1, 2016. His hard work and stellar play had earned him that contract, and his continued drive was evident on Saturday. Roughly six and a half minutes later, Higgins would double the Giants lead.
As the teams returned to the ice for the middle frame, it appeared that the Clan had the jump on the Giants, which was punctuated by Matt Beca’s goal 2:29 into the period, assisted by Scott Pitt and Corey Cowick, cutting the Giants’ lead in half. It wasn’t until the latter half of the period that the Giants got back into their groove, no doubt encouraged by Michael Forney’s goal at 9:39, assisted by Higgins. Mark Garside—who was back playing a forward position, after spending the back end of last season as a defenseman—would give the Giants a three-goal lead just 6:42 later assisted by Jim Vandemeer and Jeff Mason.
Garside’s goal was a thing of beauty. After receiving the pass, he managed to get it under the stick of the Clan’s defenseman, and took it around the back of the net, raising it off his stick to go bar down.
It was perhaps this goal that got under the skin of former Giant, Craig Peacock, who took a two-handed slash at Giants player/coach Derick Walser. Before Walser could react, Boxhill was in and had dropped the gloves with Peacock. While Peacock made a couple of good connections on Boxhill, it was Boxhill who got the take down. When the penalties were all meted out, Peacock would get five minutes for the slash, five minutes for fighting and a game misconduct. Boxhill got five for fighting, two for instigating, which also earned him an automatic 10-minute misconduct.
During the third period Higgins would get his second of the night, assisted by Forney and Riley. For Higgins it was obvious that he was definitely dialed in for the full 60 minutes. His dangles showed the skill that the Boston University alumni possesses. And it was not surprising that he was named the Man of the Match.
The Giants are on their way to Sheffield, where they will take on the Steelers on Sunday in a very important game for them in league play. They won’t return home to SSE Arena until October 21st for a double header playing host to the Coventry Blaze Friday, October 21st, and Saturday, October 22nd.
Highlights from the game: