It was more than just a regular season victory for the Vancouver Giants as they kicked off the new year.
James Malm’s overtime winner gave the Giants a 4-3 win and the victory was the team’s 20th of the season, matching their entire win output from 2016/17.
The Giants were hosting the Prince George Cougars on Monday at the Langley Events Centre as the Western Hockey League kicked off the 2018 portion of the season.
Vancouver improved to 20-14-3-2 while Prince George fell to 14-18-3-3. It also pulls the Giants to within one point of Victoria for second place in the B.C. Division.
The Giants and Prince George also played at the LEC two nights earlier, in a wild affair which saw Vancouver recover from a 4-0 deficit less than seven minutes in, only to lose 7-6 in overtime. The Cougars had tied the game with 0.3 seconds remaining.
And Monday’s contest had a similar start as Prince George’s Dennis Cholowksi and Kody McDonald scored 14 seconds apart. That spelled the end of the night for the Giants’ David Tendeck after just 6:33 of action.
Head coach Jason McKee said they have tried to stress better starts for their team. But while they may be lacking in that department, the young Giants squad has shown the propensity in battling back from early deficits.
“I think this team believes they can come back and that is the biggest thing, having the confidence to do so,” he said.
With Owen Hardy providing a screen on the power play, Brayden Watts wired a shot over the shoulder of Prince George’s Tavin Grant to get the Giants on the board.
Five minutes later, Jared Dmytriw cut across the crease, tucking the puck in past Grant to tie things up at two prior to intermission.
Dmytriw had the only goal of the second period, taking a drop pass from Watts to make it 3-2.
It was a period the Giants dominated as it took Prince George 14 minutes just to get a shot on goal.
But with just over seven minutes to play, Cholowksi scored his second of the night, getting position on his defender and slipping the puck past Todd Scott to tie things up.
Only two shots were on target during the three-on-three overtime and both were from Malm.
Taking a pass from Dmytriw — who finished with a career-high four points — Malm put a move on his defender and wired home the winner.
“I realized that was a forward I was coming down on so I thought I could make a skill move,” Malm explained. “(And) I just buried my head and shot the puck.”
Malm has goals in back-to-back games after going seven straight without scoring.
He was also on a new line for Monday’s game, centring Brad Morrison and Dawson Holt.
The bulk of the Giants damage was done by their new-look second line of Owen Hardy with Watts and Dmytriw as his wingers.
The trio finished with three goals and five assists and a combined +7.
Dmytriw — the game’s first star — was happy to have contributed offensively. He entered the game with eight goals and 13 points in 37 games with Red Deer and Vancouver.
“But the biggest thing was our team got the two points tonight,” he said. “They were a big two points within our division.”
As for his line’s success, the winger said there was no real secret.
“We are a bunch of hard working guys and I think tonight we really clicked. We were playing fast and winning our battles,” he said.
Hardy has primarily played wing but was moved to the middle to give the team some size and to make up for the absence of Milos Roman, who is with Slovakia at the IIHF world junior hockey championships.
“I thought they (Hardy line) were exceptional,” McKee said of his trio, whom he had matched up against the Cougars’ top line of Jared Bethune, Nic Holowko and Kody McDonald. “They did a good job but created offence as well.”
The Prince George top line finished with a goal and two assists and were a combined +1.
Tyler Popowich centred the Giants’ top line with Ty Ronning and Tyler Benson as his wingers. The trio had a good finish to Saturday’s overtime loss, but did not find the scoresheet in Monday’s win.
Once Roman returns, McKee said it will give the team even more options, especially if Hardy can keep up his solid play in the middle. Roman had been relied upon both for his offensive prowess and defensive awareness.
“If that can do what they did tonight, it frees up Milos to play against another line,” he said. “Really what it does is give me two options (defensively) and that is what you really like as a coach.”
The Giants now embark on a six-game road trip beginning in Edmonton on Jan. 3.
Cholowksi — the Cougars captain and Langley native — scored two goals against Vancouver for the second straight game. Since being cut from Canada’s world junior team roster, the defenceman has six goals and four points in seven games.