Photo: Lucas Chudleigh
In their return to the Rogers WHL Championship Series for the first time since 2007, the Vancouver Giants quickly showed that they’re here to play.
Forward Dawson Holt scored his second goal of the game late in the second period off a chance play that stood up as the game-winning goal while Bowen Byram, the CHL’s top-ranked prospect ahead of the 2019 NHL Draft, recorded four assists in a 5-4 win for the Giants against the Prince Albert Raiders in Game 1 of the 2019 Rogers WHL Championship Series.
Holt, a product of nearby Saskatoon, Sask., brought the cliché hockey expression ‘pucks on net’ to life for his seventh and most important goal of the 2019 WHL Playoffs to date. Coming with 17 seconds left in the second period, it helped restore a two-goal lead for the Giants that had evaporated in the first half of the middle period.
“I had a lot of family and friends here so to be able to get the win out here in front of them was obviously super special,” Holt said.
Before that goal, uplifting for one side and deflating for the other, the chaos of two unfamiliar opponents meeting with everything at stake had delivered. For the high-octane offences on both sides, the Giants had found their way onto the board in the first period.
Put on a five-on-three power play just minutes into the game, Byram took advantage. The second-year defenceman controlled the puck at the top of the zone with the confidence and poise of a player much older in years then served a perfect pass to his right where defensive partner Dylan Plouffe wired home the one-timer.
The Raiders managed to force the Giants back, killing off the power play, but were caught off-guard just seconds after it ended. With Owen Hardy entering the zone, he passed the puck to the left sideboards to his captain Jared Dmytriw, who stepped into the shot, only for it to go wide and bounce off the backboard behind the net. In the ensuing confusion directed towards Dmytriw’s shot, Holt slipped by the Raider defence, pouncing on the loose puck before shooting it into the empty net past an outstretched Ian Scott.
As far as Giants head coach Michael Dyck was concerned, it was the perfect road period to set the tone for the rest of the game.
“I thought we played really well in the first period,” Dyck said. “It was a great start for us. The second period, we got on our heels a few times.”
As the Raiders found their game, they continued to test Tendeck. The Arizona Coyotes product was equal to the task, standing tall as the Raiders’ patented hard-to-the-net style saw them direct 13 shots on the Giants’ goalkeeper in the opening 20 minutes with him turning them all aside.
Early in the second, the Raiders got a power-play opportunity of their own and made it count. Brett Leason’s shot from just above the face-off circle to the right of Tendeck squeaked past the goaltender and across the goal line to bring the home side within a goal.
The Giants would have a near-immediate response from the stick of their captain though. Just 113 seconds later, Dmytriw charged up ice with the puck and beat Scott blocker-side to quickly restore the two-goal lead.
Back came the Raiders though. Defenceman Zack Hayes sent a long pass up ice to Parker Kelly, who immediately passed it off to Noah Gregor rushing up ice. The San Jose Sharks prospect made quick of the opportunity, beating Tendeck glove side.
“We stayed calm and we worked hard,” said Raiders forward Dante Hannoun. “Shifts after goals is pretty huge here in the playoffs so we focused on that.”
Kelly factored into another goal later in the period to tie up the game. Getting the initial shot on net, Hannoun was ready in front of the crease for the rebound, backhanding it into the net for the game-tying goal, sending the arena into a frenzy.
“When we were using our speed and the crowd got into it, we were a force tonight,” captain Brayden Pachal said. “I think we can build off some things. We’ve just got to look forward for tomorrow.”
Costly minor penalties that came back to haunt both teams burned the Raiders once more late in the second. With Hannoun off for boarding, the Giants went to work on the power play and went ahead on Yannik Valenti’s second goal of the playoffs. After forcing the puck down low, the Raiders’ defence dropped low as well to deny a chance from below the goal line. As that happened, the sneaky Valenti created plenty of space and time in the slot to receive a pass from Davis Koch, before sending it into the back of the net.
“It’s given us momentum and that’s the key,” said Dyck of his power play. “When they tied it up at 3-3 and we got that opportunity, obviously it was a big goal for us to get us back in the hockey game and rolling again.”
Fortune would find the Giants seconds later for the game-winning goal from Holt. On what seemed like a nothing play in the final seconds of the period, Holt won the battle to the puck below the Raider goal line. Getting a quick shot on net before the Prince Albert defence could catch up, the puck snuck past Scott an into the back of the net.
“Their crowd is loud, there’s no secret about it,” Holt said. “To get some momentum and quiet them down a little bit it was big.”
The third period brought the Raiders within a goal on a great individual play from Jeremy Masella. The defender cut to the outside then made his move to the inside quickly, beating Tendeck from in tight.
While they played hard down the stretch, Tendeck remained solidified and focused, making four of his 25 stops in the third period. Raider head coach Marc Habscheid – the WHL Coach of the Year – wasn’t quite ready to push the panic button after the Game 1 loss.
“I liked a lot of things, most things, except one of the things was the score. We were nervous at the start; first 10 minutes for sure. We got our legs in the second, started to play and when we played we played well.”
Byram continued to grow his legend in the opening game of the WHL Championship. His four assists swelled his point total to 22, keeping him comfortably in the scoring lead for the 2019 WHL Playoffs with 22 points (7G-15A) in 16 games.