by Troy Landreville
Things got weird Friday night at the Langley Events Centre.
During a Western Hockey League game that featured all that’s great about major junior – end-to-end action, tons of speed, skill, and toughness – one play, one moment, had the barn buzzing.
It was a routine slapshot, taken from so far away it might as well have been from another time zone.
More on that near record-setting play later.
When the dust finally settled, the Kelowna Rockets defeated the host Vancouver Giants 6-4 in front of 4,286 fans inside an electric LEC.
“I feel like at times we could have been better, but I feel like the guys worked pretty hard,” said Giants 19-year-old forward Alec Baer, who scored his first two goals of the season in a losing cause. “Our work ethic was there for at least two periods but we should be better for the full 60.”
The Giants opened the scoring when a cross ice pass from James Malm trickled through to Baer. Kelowna goalie Michael Herringer sprawled on his stomach in a desperate attempt to poke check the puck away, but missed, leaving a wide open net for Baer to shoot into for his first of the campaign.
Kelowna tied the game at a goal apiece midway through the first period when a rebound spun tantalizingly to the slot for Calvin Thurkauf to backhand chip into the net.
The Rockets then moved ahead 2-1 when Nick Merkley turned off the side boards and fired a shot that beat Giants netminder Ryan Kubic.
The Giants equalized with 2:45 to go in the opening frame when Malm dished a perfect feed from behind the net to defenceman Darian Skeoch, by the left faceoff circle.
Skeoch, who snuck in deep, made no mistake as he fired a one-timer past Herringer.
After a series of Giants power play opportunities in the second period (including a two-man advantage), Kelowna forward Tomas Soustal dipsy-doodled past a Giants defenceman with a slick toe-drag and backhanded the puck past Kubic for his team-leading seventh of the season.
Then, came the most shocking goal of the season – unfortunately for the Giants, it was scored by the opposing team.
Right after his goal, Soustal drew the puck back to defenceman Braydyn Chizen on a faceoff win at centre ice. Chizen drifted a shot from his own blueline that was misplayed by Kubic, who deflected the puck into his net with the inside of his goal-stick.
It took all of three seconds for the goal to be scored – one tick off the WHL record of two seconds.
And both Soustal’s and Chizen’s goals came while their team was shorthanded.
Baer gave the Giants some life 1:31 after Chizen’s shocker, to narrow the deficit to 4-3 after 40 minutes of play.
He brought the Giants to within a goal when he gained the blueline before snapping a perfect wrist shot just inside the blueline past Herringer, low on the glove side.
Vancouver clawed back to make it 4-4 at thbe 8:42 mark of the third period when Johnny Wesley swiped a bad angle shot into a fallen Herringer. The puck found its way over the goal line for the tying marker.
The Giants looked like they had scored the go-ahead goal with 13 minutes to go in regulation but the goal was nullified due to incidental contact with the Herringer.
The backbreaker came with 3:10 to go in the final frame when the Rockets’ Kole Lind was left all alone in front and after taking a pass from behind the net, banged in his own rebound to restore the lead.
The G-Men’s hope of scoring the equalizer was dashed by a high sticking penalty on Radovan Bondra with 1:53 to play.
Then, just second after Giants’ Jack Flaman had a chance to score the tying goal after he was sent in all alone, the Rockets Nick Merkley stole the puck behind the net and stuffed it into the cage with Kubic pulled for an extra attacker.
“Definitely a winnable game,” Baer said. “We’ve just got to forget about it now and look forward to tomorrow [when the Giants host the Lethbridge Hurricanes at the LEC].”
As for his own play, Baer said his first two markers of the season were a long time coming,
“It took too long to do that but I’m glad to get the first one over with so hopefully the floodgates will open,” he said.