Belfast Telegraph

Lack of clinical touch leaves Keefe frustrated as Giants drop league opener at Storm

Manchester Storm 2 Belfast Giants 1 (OT)

First blood: Curtis Hamilton is hailed after netting opener
First blood: Curtis Hamilton is hailed after netting opener
Adam McKendry

By Adam McKendry

Belfast Giants head coach Adam Keefe bemoaned his side’s lack of finishing as they lost their opening game of the Elite League season, going down 2-1 in overtime at the Manchester Storm.

The Giants hit the post three times in the game and dominated most of the play, however they couldn’t find that clinical scoring touch and were also frustrated by a 35-save performance from Storm netminder Matt Ginn.

The crucial moment came in overtime when Giants forward Jean Dupuy hit the post, then the Storm immediately went up the other end and Jared Aulin won it by poking home a rebound 54 seconds into the extra period.

Dupuy, who also dropped the gloves with Storm d-man Mathieu Gagnon in the second period, also hit the post in regulation after Curtis Hamilton had put the visitors ahead in the first period, with Layne Ulmer levelling on the powerplay in the second period.

The loss means the Giants start the season 0-0-1 and start their title defence on a disappointing note, even though they do take a point away from Planet Ice Altrincham.

“We had our chances to put them away, we didn’t do it, it’s that simple,” moaned a frustrated Keefe. “When you’re on the road in a tough building, especially Manchester, when you get the chances to put the team away you’d better do it.

“They got that powerplay goal and then in overtime we get the breakaway and hit the post, then they go back the other end and score. That’s hockey.

“A lot of positives though, I thought our defence was outstanding, especially being shortbenched, and I thought (Mark) Garside and Paul (Swindlehurst), who don’t usually see so many minutes, were particularly great.

“But we need to finish. You won’t win many with one goal, especially on the road. We needed to finish, we didn’t get it done.”

Already down two men in the injured pair of Jesse Forsberg and Liam Reddox, the Giants’ short-benched roster was stretched even further with the absence of Patrick Mullen after he picked up a knock in their win over the Glasgow Clan on Saturday night.

For the second consecutive night it was Shane Owen who got the start in nets and he did everything he could to help the Giants by making 30 saves, however he was powerless to deny the winner.

Keefe’s side had even been ahead at 10:10 of the first period when Hamilton grabbed his third goal of the season, the winger skating in on the odd man rush and snapping one low past Ginn.

Just like the previous night, Belfast’s penalty kill was strong in the first period, going 3-for-3, and it nearly yielded a second goal just before the first intermission when Dupuy unleashed a fierce drive that pinged the left post and ricocheted away.

But eventually the weight of the penalties cost them in the second period and the dam finally burst at 14:32 of the middle stanza when Dupuy headed off for a dubious interference call and Ulmer pulled the hosts level by redirecting in Aulin’s pass from behind the net.

Belfast should have been further ahead by that stage too, Patryk Wronka passing up a glorious chance to double their lead shortly before Ulmer’s powerplay marker when he went one-on-one with Ginn and failed to convert, with Lewis Hook fanning on the follow-up effort.

Wronka was one of the visitors’ biggest threats in the offensive zone, and it was he who nearly put them back ahead at the second intermission when he produced the Giants’ second post of the game, firing backhanded against the iron on the wraparound before things boiled over.

The busy Dupuy and Storm defenceman Mathieu Gagnon got in each other’s faces late in the second period to earn conflicting roughing calls, and when they both emerged from the box, the pair dropped the gloves to earn themselves a trip to the box.

A tense third period ended scoreless, and in the 3-on-3 extra period Dupuy had a great chance to send the visitors home happy, but once his shot rebounded away, Aulin made no mistake at the other end.

The Giants return to Challenge Cup duty on Saturday when they welcome the Dundee Stars (2-0-1) to the SSE Arena for their second group game (face-off 7.30pm).

Belfast Telegraph

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