The Vancouver Giants learned just how much a home-crowd advantage can help.
The Giants played in front of 4,753 fans at the Langley Events Centre on Saturday night, with the fans going home happy after a 3-2 win over the Kelowna Rockets.
“As a coach you try to focus on what is on the ice most, but you could feel the energy, our guys could hear it,” said Vancouver coach Jason McKee.
“Our guys really fed off that tonight.”
The crowd was the largest since the Giants first game in Langley, at the start of the 2016/17 campaign, when announced attendance at the LEC was 4,875.
And the players definitely noticed the buzz.
“We do feel a lot of the energy, we definitely build off that,” said Giants winger Ty Ronning, who notched his 40th of the season.
“I think it (crowd support) has a lot to do with our success. We love their support, the die-hard fans, and we feed off it.”
“The fans were awesome. It is so much fun playing (in an atmosphere) like this, it energizes the boys,” added goaltender David Tendeck, who finished with 28 saves and improved his goals against average to 2.93 and his save percentage to .911. Both statistics put him in the top 10.
The teams were tied at two goals apiece after Kelowna’s Leif Mattson banked the puck off a Giants defender’s stick early in the third period. But James Malm converted a two-on-one for the winning goal five minutes later, re-directing a centring pass from Dawson Holt.
It was Malm’s ninth game-winning goal (out of 17), which puts him atop the Western Hockey League in that category.
“I wouldn’t say there is any secret, I am just scoring goals at the right time,” Malm offered after his latest winner.
He also spoke after Giants practice earlier this week on the subject.
“Obviously every goal is big in this league but to get a game winner, is a different feeling than a regular goal,” he said.
“It means a bit more, that’s for sure.”
The win keeps Vancouver unbeaten in regulation over nine games (7-0-2-0) as they improved to 25-14-4-2 and their 56 points put them one back of Kelowna (27-13-2-1) for top spot in the B.C. Division. The Rockets do have two games in hand.
Malm, who also had an assist and extended his point streak to nine games (four goals, 13 points), was one of three Giants to finish with two points as Owen Hardy scored once and set up Ronning, while Holt finished with a pair of helpers.
Kelowna’s opening goal came courtesy of Connor Bruggen-Cate, as the Langley product notched his 10th of the season.
Malm was flanked by Holt and Davis Koch, who was picked up at the WHL trade deadline.
Koch, who grew up in White Rock, was thrilled with the chance to play so close to home. He also had a loud contingent of family and friends cheering him on Saturday night.
“It is pretty awesome, pretty surreal right now. I played midget in this rink so coming here to play is pretty awesome,” he said earlier this week.
Koch is familiar with playing in the LEC, having spent time with the Valley West Hawks of the BC Major Midget Hockey League. He has also skated with Malm at Hawks camps and in the summertime, as well as being a former teammate with Valley West of current Giants defenceman Matt Barberis.
Vancouver is back in action on Friday as they host the Victoria Royals at the LEC. Game time is 7:30 p.m. It is one of two home games this weekend as the Giants also welcome Portland to town the following night at 7 p.m.