When the season began with back-to-back lopsided losses, fans of the Vancouver Giants could be forgiven if they thought ‘here we go again.’
The Giants came out of the gate and were hammered 7-1 and 6-1 by the Victoria Royals on consecutive nights. This was coming on the heels of a season which saw them post just 46 points, their third-lowest total since they entered the Western Hockey League in 2001.
And even through the first 26 games of this season, the team was not even average, posting a 10-12-2-2 record.
This was on Nov. 25 and in the following 38 games, the Giants have been one of the top teams in the WHL, going 23-10-4-1.
And on Saturday night, Vancouver punched their ticket for the post-season thanks to a wild 5-4 win over the visiting Kamloops Blazers at the Langley Events Centre. It will be Vancouver’s first playoff appearance since the 2013/14 campaign.
The teams had also played the night before in Kamloops with the Blazers winning 5-1.
The team is 33-22-6-3 and with 75 points, sit third in the B.C. Division. They are, however, just three points back of Victoria for second place and the Giants hold two games in hand.
“Our goal isn’t finished, but one of our first goals was to get into the playoffs,” said coach Jason McKee. “It’s a good moment, a good feeling to be a part of that.
“We had a goal as an organization right from August and that was to get in (to the playoffs) and give ourselves a chance.”
Clinching on home ice — in front of 4,041 fans (the fifth time they have surpassed the 4,000-seat mark at the LEC in 34 games) — was an added bonus as the Giants play six of their final eight games on the road.
“They were the sixth man on the ice,” McKee said of the fans. “There was a great energy in the building (and) I think our guys really fed off it.”
The Giants led 3-0 after one period on goals from Alex Kannok Leipert, Brayden Watts and Hunor Torzsok (who scored his first career WHL goal).
And after Darian Skeoch’s dump-in from centre ice took a couple of skips along the ice and eluded Max Palaga — who had replaced Dylan Ferguson for the second period — it looked like it was game, set and match.
But the Blazers’ Joe Gatenby, Jermaine Loewen and Luc Smith scored in quick succession, three goals in 3:52 and it was game on.
A Giants timeout did result in Tyler Benson’s goal 49 seconds later and that stood as the winner.
The Blazers’ Nolan Kneen made things interesting with a goal seven minutes into the third period, but that would be it.
“We just made some (bad) decisions and they usually come back and hurt and you they did,” McKee said. Our group is continuing to learn … and we learned the hard way tonight.”
“We had complete control of the game and we just did some things that we didn’t need to and it just completely changed the complexion,” he added
“But we stuck with it. You saw a lot of sacrifice especially int he last two minutes there.”
Vancouver, which was already down a player and only dressed 11 forwards, lost Aidan Barfoot to injury as well in Saturday’s game.
McKee said that of the now six injured Giants, defenceman Dylan Plouffe is the only one who may play this weekend as Vancouver wraps up three games in less than 48 hours.
The Giants host the Western Conference’s top team, the Everett Silvertips on Sunday (March 4) at 2 p.m. before the team hits the road for six of their final seven games.