Manchester Storm 1 – 2 Belfast Giants
Belfast Giants picked up two Elite League points this past Sunday against the Manchester Storm to give the Northern Ireland side a four-point weekend with an unlikely source scoring their winning goal in Matt Nickerson. The Giants bearded fan-favourite scored a ripper to beat Mike Clemente in the third period in which to hand Belfast victory.
Both sides will get to know each other a bit more over the next couple of weeks with the Storm and Giants meeting twice in the Challenge Cup Quarter-finals later this week and then the return fixture next week too. After Manchester had put Belfast to the sword a couple of weeks ago at the ‘Storm Shelter’ when they beat their opponents 5-1, a repeat of that performance from the Giants was always unlikely to happen again and this time around saw a much better performance from the visitors.
After a long opening start without a whistle, it saw the game seemingly being in and around the Manchester zone with netminder Mike Clemente forced into making some very good stops from the Belfast forwards as the home side defended very well. The Giants huffed and puffed and found it hard to find any way to get the puck in the back of the net, while the home side had the same struggle too as Belfast goalie Jackson Whistle was not really having to do much in the game.
Manchester began to find some joy with the home team creating a couple of chances and were denied by the hot glove hand of Whistle in the Giants nets to keep it scoreless. Belfast opened the scoring when Chris Higgins found the back of the net for the away side, after some good sustained pressure in the Storm zone saw the combination of Mark Garside and Mike Forney setting up Higgins to give the Giants the lead at 11:32.
The game then exploded with Manchester’s Dallas Ehrhardt and Belfast’s Adam Keefe dropping the gloves, but with Ehrhardt only able to use one hand due to a a recent injury, it saw both players deciding to end the fight early due to the injury on the Storm mans hand.
Quickly after the scrap that was a non-event, it saw the Giants aggression continuing to come out and had Derrick Walser being a bit too aggressive for his good and after a good hit had come in on Cody Cartier, it saw the Belfast coach immediately laying a heavy hit on the home player and was called rightly for charging. Walser vented from the penalty box and saw him picking up an extra 10 minutes in the box for abuse of official.
Six seconds later saw Darian Dziurzynski battling at the in front of the Belfast net and had Jim Vandermeer firstly slashing the Storm man before Michael Quesnele then took a swing for him and resulted in all three players getting penalties. Belfast were clearly letting the match official get under their skin, and that in tow saw Manchester with a powerplay opportunity and had Captain Trevor Johnson firing his side back on level terms with a shot from the point that went through traffic at 13:35.
Matt Nickerson then sat in the box for a hooking penalty and that had the Giants bench and players on the ice fuming with the decision. However, Belfast killed the penalty off and saw Manchester having the puck in the back of the net only to be washed out with the nets clearly dislodged prior to the shot being fired in. With the first period in the books, it looked to have the game simmering after a very eventful period of hockey.
Play in the second saw a bit more of an even period and hockey based than that opening physical aspect, as the home side had a good chance or two but wasn’t really working the goalie much and had Whistle dealing with the puck fairly easily. Belfast found themselves with another opportunity on the powerplay as this time Storm netminder Mike Clemente took exception to a Giants man in his crease and was called for roughing.
It seemed that the tempers had calmed and that was until 34:00 gone on the clock, when Belfast’s goal scorer Chris Higgins was left fuming with referee Steve Brown on a holding the stick call and as he was heading to the penalty box he then had a Manchester player giving him words and jabbed his stick into the midriff of the Storm man and was immediately given a Match penalty for spearing.
Despite an extended powerplay for the home side, the Storm couldn’t make anything of their extra man advantage and their best chance of note came when a shot pinged off the cross bar and away in the dying embers of the second. Third period action saw the visiting Giants looking much the better side and took control of the game and dictated the tempo. Storm lacked a real edge to their play in the period and lost their attacking threat and seemed a different side to the two previous periods of play.
With less than ten minutes left to play in the contest, it saw literally a ‘blot from the blue’ as Matt Nickerson let off a rocket of a shot that flew into the top corner and left Mike Clemente helpless to do anything and put the visitors 2-1 up. The Giants played a really good disruptive game and gave the home side nothing at all when trying to force a play and saw every attack broken up easily by the men from over the Irish Sea.
With Omar Pacha pulling the goalie for the extra attacker late on, it saw one last chance falling to Jack Prince and the British forward just had his shot deflected high up into the netting above the glass at the last second to see Belfast prevail in taking the win. Jackson Whistle took home the Man of the Man for the the visitors, while Trevor Johnson took the honours for the home side.
The sides will renew acquaintances again this coming Wednesday night at the Silver Blades ice rink when they meet again in the first leg of the Challenge Cup quarter-finals in Altrincham, before the return at the SSE Arena in Belfast next week.