by Lisa Brown on 01/28/12 at 06:00 AM ET
There is no denying that the Vancouver Giants and the Calgary Hitmen do not like each other. While the two teams rarely face off, this competition and dislike may stem from the NHL or even the fact that they are two big western cities and are playing for bragging rights.
The first few minutes of the night were played between the blue lines with both teams playing stingy defence and shutting down each scoring attempt before the play got within 10 feet of the net.
With the level of defence being played by both teams, it was of little surprise that the Vancouver Giants did not get the games first shot on net until 7:40 in the first period. The Giants would only get a couple more before the Hitmen got their first shot of the night at 8:08.
Although the number of shots would dramatically increase throughout the game for the Giants, it would remain a very close game on the scoreboard.
The Giants nearly had the first goal of the game at when captain Brendan Gallagher’s shot saw the puck touch the goal line, but never crossed it. The call on the ice was no goal and after a brief referee meeting, the call on the ice stood. No goal.
For the Hitmen, their lone goal on Giant’s netminder Adam Morrison, who has recently returned from his concussion, came late in the first period. Colin Bowman created the turnover taking puck procession against the boards in the neutral zone and carried the puck into the Giants zone. Bowamn released his shot from the hash marks and made no mistake putting the puck past Morrison.
Both teams would take far too many penalties through the rest of the game. Each team had a lengthy five on three opportunity, but neither team was able to capitalize on it.
“We did a great job out there; lots of blocked shots from our players on the five on three penalty kill.” Explained Edmonton Oilers’ prospect David Musil. “So that was a really big point for us, but we came back and didn’t score a goal. We couldn’t really get the puck in the net.”
“It was a pretty tough game. We played pretty good, but we didn’t score goals. That’s one of the keys that we have to get better at for the next game. Without scoring a goal it’s kind of hard to get a win. We let down one bad goal, but that’s hockey and we’ve got to learn from that. We’ve got to be better tomorrow.”
Musil is another shining light in the Oilers’ current state of affairs. At the World Juniors, it was Musil and Oscar Kelfbom who captivated fans the most. After all, they were the most recent and highest drafted Oiler prospects. Musil continues to develop and play as a shut down defenceman. For this game, Musil saw plenty of ice time on the penalty kill, shutting down Hitmen opportunities before they became scoring chances.
The Giants tried everything to get on the board. Even while killing their five on three penalty, the Giants carried the puck into the Hitmen’s end taking a big risk, but knowing that it could result in big rewards. Instead, Hitmen goaltender Chris Driedger turned away all 32 shots. On the other end of the rink, the Hitmen chalked up only 19 shots through 60 minutes.
The empty net goal would come from Trevor Cheek with 45 seconds left in regulation. This was Cheek’s 15th goal of the season.
“It always seemed that we were chasing pucks and that’s because Calgary had good pressure.” Said Vancouver Giant’s head coach Don Hay. “We couldn’t seem to get the puck off of the boards. It was a little bit of what they did and a little bit about what we didn’t do.
“I thought we were physical, we were working hard, we just couldn’t find a way to score a goal. I thought that that [Brendan] Gallagher play was really close. I thought it was a goal, but it must not have gone all of the way in.”
The Vancouver Giants will not much time to recover from the losses already suffered in Alberta; the first one to the Red Deer Rebels and this game to the Hitmen. The Giants will have less than 24 hours to travel to Edmonton and prepare for their game against the record setting Edmonton Oil Kings.
“It’s not going to get any easier,” sighed Hay. “Edmonton is a pretty good hockey club. We just have to stick with it. Sometimes you can play a great game and not win it. We have to make sure that we are playing well, that’s the main thing. I like our effort tonight. If we can continue to have that type of effort, we will continue to have success.”
Hitmen goaltender Chris Dreidger has just been named to the CHL Top Prospects game next week in Kelowna. “I was really excited,” exclaimed Driedger with an ear to ear grin. “I found out a couple of days ago and I don’t think that anything could break my good moo0d for the day. It really gives me confidence going into this games.”
While goalies will tell you that facing a high number of goals, or facing a small number of goals is the hardest game they will play depending on the night, Driedger admits that facing fewer shots is far more difficult.
“I had a game, two games ago against Prince George where I think I had 19 shots. We won 5-1 but I think I had five in the first. It’s tough, you’ve got to try to stay focussed or some bad goals might get in. My one goal, I probably should have had it if I was sharper but goals like this where I had 28 after two periods I was really tested early so it helped me to keep in the game a little more.”
This shutout was Driedger’s second of the month but also his second of his WHL career. “It feels fantastic. It was pretty cool to get the second shutout right away.”
For Hitmen head coach Mike Williamson, the win was great, but “We relied more on our goalie than I would have liked. He was incredible and he was there for us. Vancouver worked extremely hard and we didn’t have a lot of time and space. I didn’t think that we were at our best. We found a way to win.”
At times, the Hitmen looked as though they were at the tail end of a three games in three days stretch, instead of just starting.
The Hitmen will travel to Medicine Hat to take on Tyler Bunz and the Medicine Hat Tigers, and Mike Comrie’s younger brother and the Tri-City Americans on Sunday.
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Lisa McRitchie is a fairly new writer, online at least, but makes up for inexperience with passion for the game of hockey and memories of Mrs. Leskiw’s English AP class; who knew they would pay off one day.
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