By Kris Smith
Belfast Giants kicked off their Challenge Cup title defence with a hard-fought victory over the Kitmart Dundee Stars.
The Giants blocked the lanes well and took their chances but Dundee showed more positives as the team continued to progress in the early stages of the season.
A full line-up was available for Omar Pacha after the arrival of Fabrizio Ricci this week but the Giants went without Blair Riley, Andrew Dickson, Hunter Bishop and Matt Towe.
Belfast took an early lead just 41 seconds into the game after winning a face-off in the Stars zone, the puck came to Jim Vandermeer and his lofted shot dipped under the crossbar.
Dundee were trying to get back into the game, but the Giants were strong at the back and kept finding ways to breakout and put the home team under pressure. Dundee goalie Pontus Sjögren swiftly killed a dangerous chance,after Patrick Dwyer took advantage of a bad giveaway by Dundee.
Adam Keefe’s men were looking dangerous and clinical and it was not long before the Stars defensive unit was back under pressure. Moments later, Sjögren had made a good save but had to react quickly to bat away the rebound that was loose in mid-air.
Omar Pacha’s powerplay unit got their first taste of action after nine minutes as Colin Shields and Dwyer were both penalised at the same time, giving the home side a 5-on-3 advantage. There were a few good looks for the Stars as one shot clipped the top corner and defenceman Connor Cox was denied twice at the back door but the Northern Irish team managed to kill off the two minutes.
Guillaume Gélinas fired a low wrist shot that was only stopped by the elbow of the Stars netminder before Dundee had a big chance going forward at the other end. A slip in the Belfast defence created a 2-on-1 situation for Stars and Lukas Lundvald fired a hard shot that was destined for the top corner but Tyler Beskorowany pulled off an even better glove save to keep it out.
Dwyer was eager to double the lead for Belfast, as he tried to skate it around the Stars keeper but he could not get it past the legs of Sjögren. However, David Rutherford glided in at the back door to fire home at 14:43. The frustrated Stars needed a quick answer and tensions flared as Lundvald and Curtis Leonard dropped the gloves.
Although, shortly after Ricci marked his first appearance in a Stars jersey with a goal to pull it back to 2-1at 18:43, he directed the puck past Beskorowany from the top of crease. Jonathon Ferland was called for holding-the-stick in the final minute of the first period, leaving Dundee on the powerplay to start the second.
30 seconds after the restart Matt Marquardt tied the game at 2-2 as he fired a shot off the bar from the left of Beskorowany’s goal. It was a strong start by Omar Pacha’s side as they looked to take control of the game. Cox made a perfectly timed sliding block to prevent one chance but Dundee were then penalised for too many men, although the penalty was killed off well.
Marquardt then played in Charlie Corcoran but he tipped the puck over net from close range as Dundee were getting closer to taking the lead. Belfast’s Francis Beauvillier fired a bullet at the Dundee net but Sjögren flashed the leather to keep the game tied. However, moments later, Kendall McFaull sent the puck along the ice to Kyle Baun and he used his stick to lift it high over the shoulder of Swedish goalie at 35:28.
Marquardt tried to quickly draw his team level but this time was denied by the crossbar. The home team were behind but still had a lot of fight in them, Lundvald was next to go close as he hit a rebound first-time but Beskorowany made a brilliant double save to keep out the Dane’s effort. Dundee were once again trailing, as they headed into the final break.
Josh Roach hit post as the Giants tried to build on their lead early in the third period but at the other end, the Belfast goalie did well to keep the puck out after a massive scramble in front of him. Youngster Jordan Kelsall then showed off his ability with a fine move but then failed to test the Giants keeper. Baun bagged a brace after he fired the puck into the top corner to put Belfast 4-2 ahead at 50:41.
The Stars head coach used his timeout after a slashing penalty against Belfast’s Leonard put them on the man advantage with just under three minutes to play, he also pulled Sjögren from the Dundee net in exchange for an extra attacker. The post was the closest Stars got before losing Shawn Boutin to the sin bin and their man advantage.
After entering the visitor’s zone, Sjögren was swapped out again but even with the extra skater Belfast held their own and sealed their first win of the regular season. Dundee’s Lundvald and Giants’ Beskorowany were given the ‘Man of the Match’ awards.
Stars have no time to dwell as the Glasgow Clan visit on Sunday evening, they are also looking for their first win after falling to Fife 5-4 on penalty shots.