Giants 7 Rebels 4
Vancouver North West Giants head coach Jon Calvano down plays the fact his squad is one of the premier major midget hockey teams in the west.
“We have eight 15-year-olds and one 14-year-old affiliated player so we’re more like a minor midget team than a major midget team,” he said. “So we need to use team speed, keep our feet moving and use puck movement to be successful.”
That they did extremely well Friday as they scored five unanswered third-period goals to down the Red Deer Optimist Rebels 7-4 in the opening game of the best-of-three Pacific Region major midget hockey championship before more than 900 fans at the Arena.
While the Giants picked up their pace as the game wore on the Rebels got caught standing around and watching for much of the third period, something that head coach Doug Quinn has seen before.
“It happened a few times where we got ahead, then sat back and got away from our game. It happened in the third period and they got rolling. They have some very talented offensive players and you saw the results.”
Giants outstanding 15-year-old defenceman Griffin Reinhart, who was the third overall pick in last year’s WHL bantam draft by the Edmonton Oil Kings, kick started the Vancouver third-period outburst when he got a bounce in front of Red Deer netminder Mac Engel and scored at 1:33. Connor Rankin, who was the seventh pick in the draft by the Tri-City Americans, tied the game with his third goal of the game with a quick snap shot from the right circle at 3:44.
Curtis Loik, who led the Giants in scoring this season with 37 goals, then took control. He tipped in a point shot by Reinhart, then redirected a pass while on the power play and the game was all but over. Destry Straight scored into an empty net.
“Five goals, I don’t think anyone saw that coming,” said Calvano. “We made a goalie change (from Charlie Finn to Lyndon Stanwood) just to get through the game. But Rankin had a great game and Loik got a timely goal to make it 5-4 and then the sixth goal was the clincher.”
Overall the Giants showed they have as much speed as the Rebels.
“They have a lot of speed and talent and like any team when you give them time and space to make the players they can look good,” said Quinn. “We had our forecheck going early and created a lot of opportunities, but later we also had some problems along the half wall ins getting the puck out of our zone, which created all kinds of turnovers.”
The Rebels stormed out the gate, hitting everything they saw and grabbed an early 1-0 lead on Sam Jardine’s point shot on the power play at 3:43.
Calvano expected the Rebels to come out hitting.
“They came out hard in the first 10 minutes to get the momentum in their direction. They had some good hits and put us on our heels. Besides No. 6 (six-foot-four, 205-pound Reinhart) we’re not big on defence. They had a lot of energy and it took some time for our guys to settle in.”
Nate Engert gave the Rebels a 2-0 lead heading into the first intermission while the second period was a seesaw affair.
Rankin connected twice on the power play before the Rebels came back to take a 4-2 lead on goals by Connor Hartley and Kirsten Odendaal.
The Rebels took six of eight minor penalties and the Giants connected three times with the man advantage, which surprised Calvano.
“Our power play hasn’t been good during the playoffs, but for some reason it was tonight. We moved the puck well and got a couple of breaks.”
“And we took some silly penalties, which you can’t do against a skilled team,” added Quinn.
The second game of the series goes tonight at 7:30 p.m. with the third, if necessary, Sunday at 2 p.m.
“We’re disappointed with the result, but it is what it is and we can’t worry about it. We just have to learn and be better tomorrow,” said Quinn.
“We know they’ll keep coming at us . . . hopefully we have enough energy for another 60 minutes,” added Calvano.