James Malm picked up from where he left off last season.
Among his 19 goals last season, the shifty centre delivered nine game-winners. And he was at it again on Friday night, snapping a 1-1 tie with 29 seconds to play in the second period as the Vancouver Giants opened the Western Hockey League season against the Everett Silvertips at Langley Events Centre.
Malm added an empty-net goal to ice the game as well as Vancouver won 3-1 against the defending Western Conference champions.
“I don’t think there is any secret,” Malm said when asked about his propensity for scoring that clutch goal. “I just seem to score at the right time.”
More important to Malm then who scored the winner was the fact the Giants won a season opener for the first time since the 2015/16 campaign.
In the past two years, they have lost 7-3 and 7-1 in game one of their respective seasons.
“It’s a good feeling (and) we are not going into that second game with our heads held low,” Malm explained.
Captain Jared Dmytriw echoed those feelings.
“As soon as you can get that first win out of the way, the better,” he said. “There’s a funny joke at the start of every season, you can’t go 60-0 and if you don’t win the first one, so we are glad to get the first one out of the way and will use that as momentum.”
The teams were tied at one after 20 minutes with Owen Hardy scoring from a bad angle down low to start the scoring before Martin Fasko-Rudas got a stick on Wyatte Wylie point shot on an Everett power play for the equalizer.
On the winner, Dawson Holt took the body to create a turnover, with Malm picking up the puck, cutting the slot and firing home the go-ahead goal.
“Our whole game plan was to be hard on them, especially in the neutral zone. Dawson Holt came through and took the body and left the puck and I just used my skill to get to the middle of the ice,” Malm said.
The third period saw Everett control play as the Giants had just one shot through the first 19 minutes before Malm scored into the empty net. But netminder David Tendeck turned away all 11 shots and finished with 30 saves.
“We can’t rely on Dave to make the saves that he made, we can’t put that kind of pressure on him. We have to better in front of him, especially when the game is on the line,” Dmytriw said.
The captain did like his team’s game the first 40 minutes.
“Our forecheck was our staple tonight. When we got the puck behind their D and used our speed, that is when we are at our best.”
The Giants are just 2-9-0-1 against Everett over the past two seasons.
“With the pressure, maybe we got a little intimidated and maybe started gripping the sticks a bit tight and started turning the puck over,” said Vancouver head coach Michael Dyck. “We just have to get back to what we did the first two period.”
Despite a less than stellar final 20 minutes, it was a solid game overall for the team, especially considering the caliber of opponent in the Silvertips.
“They play like a playoff team every time we play, (so to beat them) is a pretty good feeling,” Malm said.
“We can use that as a momentum. They had a really good team last year and they have a really good team this year. They play the game well, they play solid and any time you can beat a team like that, it’s pretty good,” added Dmytriw.
Both teams now head south down the I-5 as they complete the back-end of the home-and-home series on Saturday night in Everett at the Angel of the Winds Arena.
“They will probably be pretty excited, raising that Western Conference banner. We have to be prepared to play a greasy road game,” Dyck said.
• The Giants went 0-for-5 on the power play while Everett was 1-for-4.
• WHL commissioner Ron Robison spoke to the media prior to the game and among the topics he discussed was Langley Events Centre.
“We have always been very impressed. It is an outstanding junior hockey facility and an outstanding home for the Vancouver Giants,” Robison said. “We are delighted. Everything we ask from the (Township) of Langley, they deliver in terms of looking after the Giants and making sure all of their needs are taken care of.”
What’s up next:
These two clubs won’t have to wait long to get reacquainted as they’ll face one another tomorrow night (Saturday, Sept. 22) at 7:05 p.m., but this time it’s down South in Everett, Wash.