Coming into Friday night’s hockey game, a lot of people were talking about #17 on the Victoria Royals roster. And deservedly so. With 18 points in 14 games, Alex Gogolev is one of the top scorers in the WHL. His fluid skating style and flashy puckhandling make him a threat every time he steps on the ice.
But it was the Vancouver Giants #17 who stole the show this night. Marek Tvrdon quadrupled his goal total for the season, notching a hat trick and adding an assist to help the Giants to just their third win of the season.
The Royals had taken the last three games against the Giants, and it honestly seemed like their heart wasn’t in this one. The Giants, to their credit, took full advantage, dominating from start to finish. Jackson Houck was a force on the boards all night, winning pucks and cycling with a vengeance. That work ethic is a big reason that he leads the team in scoring so far this young season — despite Vancouver’s 3-9 record, he has 17 points in 12 games.
The recipient of Houck’s hard work was Tvrdon, who scored three different ways to seal the game for the home side. But first, he and Houck set up Dalton Sward just after the expiration of a Royals penalty to put the Giants up 1-0 after 20 minutes. It marked only the third time this season Vancouver has scored first, and an important confidence boost; Victoria hadn’t managed a single shot in the period, but the Giants had thrown 8 pucks at Jared Rathjen. Going into the locker room tied may have tilted things toward the visitors.
In the second period, however, the ice continued to favour the home team. They outshot Victoria 10-5, and rookie goalie Payton Lee did something Vancouver goaltenders haven’t done much this season: despite being lonely for much of the first 40 minutes, he stopped all the pucks that happened to come his way.
The 2-0 goal came on a hard forecheck by Tvrdon and Tyler Moar early in the second period. Tvrdon outmuscled the Royals defenseman behind the net, marched into the slot and put home his own rebound. Six minutes later, grinder Scott Cooke popped the puck loose, and Tvrdon hopped on it with a quick wrister to Rathjen’s glove side. 3-0. The Victoria goalie made several big saves in quick succession in the second period, or this game could have been a laugher. Trevor Cheek, Jackson Houck and Riley Kieser all had glorious scoring opportunities kicked out by Rathjen.
Lee had his shutout bid spoiled midway through the third period, on the Royals 10th shot of the night. Jamie Crooks scored on a bang-bang play, knocking in a pass from Steven Hodges. Seconds later Lee made a wonderful pad save on an identical play to preserve the 3-1 lead. The Giants looked shaky for a few minutes, giving Victoria the only sustained puck possession they held this night. But a frustrated Gogolev took a boarding penalty with 5:33 remaining to take the wind out of the Royal sails.
On the power play, Houck had a pass deflected into the slot, and it just happened to fly Tvrdon’s way. It was one of those nights for #17 in scarlet. The player of the game calmly batted it out of the air past Rathjen to complete the hat trick and cement a victory the Giants badly needed before heading out on a five-game road trip.
With shots 16-2 halfway through the game, the Royals tried, in good WHL tradition, to wake up through the rough stuff. The second period featured a parade to the penalty box by both teams. It looked like it might get out of hand a few times, but the zebras held court nicely. When Victoria tough guy Tim Traber lost his cool in the third period, for example — nothing to do with Vancouver tough guy giving Rathjen a snow shower, you understand — the refs gave him a two-minute minor for the team, and a ten-minute misconduct to get him out of the game. In all there were 90 minutes of penalties handed out in the game, most of them coming in the second period. Victoria was unable to capitalize on three power plays, while the Giants went one for six with the man advantage.
Nice to see: In addition to the two points, the game boasted the largest crowd of the season for the Giants: 7,826 came out to see WHL hockey on a wet October night. Could Mr Hockey have had anything to do with that? Maybe. This was a Legends Night, so the building held the combined histories of Gordie and Marty Howe, Claude Lemieux, Pat Quinn, Greg Adams and Mark Lofthouse.