Payton Lee shines in back-to-back losses

Vancouver has struggled this season, but 16-year-old Payton Lee has kept them close the last couple of games. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

For the second game in a row, Payton Lee was the best player in a Vancouver Giants uniform. And for the second game in a row, the 16-year-old goaltender from Cranbrook earned a big fat regulation loss for his efforts, as his teammates were unable to put together much of anything at the other end of the ice. Lee stopped 29 of 31 shots, but his Giants left Kamloops on the wrong end of a 2-1 scoreline.

Going into Saturday’s game, one wouldn’t have predicted a one-goal affair. Kamloops, the best team in the WHL, was looking for its 20th win of the season, and boasted three of the top four scorers in the league. Vancouver, on the other hand, sat way down at the bottom of the conference standings, making various Sound Effects of Failure at passersby. The Giants had traded away several veteran players for prospects and picks, and lost their top scorer Marek Tvrdon to an unfortunate blood clot in his shoulder.

But a closer look showed the Blazers had cooled of late — it was 18 games into the season before they lost a game in regulation, but they’d won just four games in their last ten. They had lost overage player Jordan DePape, who was forced to end his WHL career by shoulder surgery of his own. And despite the Giants last-place position, they had been improved at both ends of the ice — gone was the roller coaster team that allowed 18 goals in two games just a few weeks ago and in its place was a tighter squad with some growing confidence and fewer missed assignments.

Goaltender Payton Lee is helping the young Giants construct some confidence and consistency in their own end of the rink. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Vancouver came out smartly in the first period, limiting the league’s best team to just six shots and no legitimate scoring chances. However, their scoring woes continued, and it was 0-0 after 20 minutes. The Vancouver power play moved the puck well but failed to improve their league-worst road power play. With just two goals on 33 chances away from the Pacific Coliseum, the G-men are converting man advantages at a blistering pace of just 6.1%.

Those top scorers I mentioned earlier? Colin Smith put Kamloops on the board twice in the second period, both times assisted by JC Lipon — the all-important first goal coming on the power play. Kamloops dominated most of the final 40 minutes, outshooting Vancouver 25-18 and spending considerable amounts of time in the Giants zone pressuring Payton Lee. The Giants were lucky to come within one, as Carter Popoff’s pass bounced off a defenseman’s skate past Blazers goalie Cole Cheveldave. It was Vancouver’s first goal in 155 minutes of hockey, and motivated them to threaten a late equalizer.

The Blazers held out, however, for a predictable two points against the Giants. Kamloops remains the top team in the WHL with 42 points; Vancouver is last in the league with 14 points, eight back of their next opponent, the Everett Silvertips.

The Moose Jaw Warriors visit Vancouver on Wednesday, November 28 at 7pm. Tickets start at $19.