Normally back-to-back losses and only getting four of a possible eight points would be cause for concern.
But with what the Vancouver Giants travel itinerary looked like this week — and missing five regulars from the line-up — had head coach Jason McKee impressed with his team’s resolve.
The Giants were coming off a 4-2 loss to the Red Deer Rebels on Sunday afternoon at the Langley Events Centre, a loss which dropped Vancouver to 31-20-5-3. Red Deer improved to 21-26-10-3 with the victory.
“The effort was there. I am not disappointed,” McKee said. ‘They gave it everything they had.”
In a span of less than 96 hours, Vancouver had to travel to and from Portand for a game on Wednesday night, host Edmonton back in Langley on Friday, take the ferry to Victoria for a game against the Royals on Saturday, and then take the ferry back to the Lower Mainland on Sunday for a 4 p.m. matinee with the Rebels.
The Giants won the first two games, 4-2 and 2-1, before a heartbreaking loss in Victoria on Saturday.
Ty Ronning tied the score at 3-3 with 37 seconds to play but the Royals’ Dino Kambeitz got behind the Giants defence and scored the winner with the game just 10 seconds away from overtime.
“Health is a big part of any team (and) we were put to the test with our schedule,” McKee said. “We probably should have had five (points) but we got four and we will take it.”
All four Red Deer goals came off lost battles, whether it be a rebound they couldn’t get to, a turnover or a lost face-off.
“The hard areas, when you are tired and fatigued, that is where things get magnified,” McKee said. “We just lost too many battles in those key areas (but) it wasn’t from a lack of try.”
Vancouver was out-shot early in Sunday’s game with Red Deer but scored the only goal of the period. While short-handed for the third time in the opening 20 minutes, Brendan Riddle got the puck to Dawson Holt. Holt was denied initially, but stuck with the play and slid the puck into the open goal with Red Deer’s Riley Lamb out of position.
Red Deer scored twice in the middle frame.
David Tendeck made the save on a shot from Brandon Hagel but the puck bounced up and over the goaltender and was an easy tap-in for Kristian Reichel.
That goal came at 6:34 and less than five minutes later, the Giants turned the puck over to Arshdeep Bains and the former Valley West Hawks standout feathered a perfect cross-ice pass to Brandon Cutler on the two-on-one and the winger buried it for the 2-1 lead.
Cutler made it 3-1 early in the third period after the Giants failed to clear the zone. Tendeck made the initial save, but Cutler pounced on the rebound, and while all alone, made a deke and roofed his back-hander.
Jared Dmytriw got that one back for Vancouver 90 seconds later as Tyler Ho’s shot ricocheted off the end boards and Dmytriw gathered the puck and beat Lamb from the slot.
The goal generated some more jump in the Giants but with just over eight minutes to go, Red Deer won a face-off and Cutler fed a beautiful cross-ice pass to Reichel and the winger’s shot went off the post and in.
The Giants would finish the third period with 18 shots and they had 32 over the final 40 minutes, and that impressed McKee.
“The effort was there. We just didn’t defend in front of our net as well as we could have,” he said. “That’s partially fatigue. These kids played a ton of minutes (and) were in a tough spot this weekend.”
The team will not get some much needed time off to start the week before they prepare for their next game, Feb. 23 when they host the Everett Silvertips. It is Vancouver’s only game of the weekend.