Manchester Storm 3 – 3 Belfast Giants
Manchester Storm let a two goal lead slip from their grasp against the Belfast Giants in the first leg of the Challenge Cup quarter-final tie in Altrincham, with the Giants battling back from 3-1 down to level the game up at 3-3 and have left all to play for next week at the SSE Arena with the sides meeting in Northern Ireland after an entertaining opening leg.
Manchester was missing their starting netminder in Mike Clemente, due to the Storm man picking up a suspension for throwing a punch at a Giants player on Sunday and that meant that Phil Spanswick got given a rare opportunity to start and show what he could do. It would be fair to say that the home side was fired up by the loss of their starting goalie due to their opponents asking for the incident to be reviewed and that saw the Storm coming out on fire against the Giants.
Belfast iced Stephen Murphy between the pipes and saw him coming under early pressure by the home team and was forced into action. Phil Spanswick was having a solid game at the other end and was making some good stops and was perhaps surprising the opposition with his performance.
Manchester captain Trevor Johnson put his side ahead almost 90 seconds into the second period, when the defenseman stayed at the front of goal and had Taylor Dickin looking up and playing pass out towards him and have Johnson putting home for a 1-0 lead. Belfast then responded within minutes of the go-ahead through Jeff Mason as Chris Higgins played a little backhanded pass across goal and that allowed Mason to easily tuck home for a 1-1 game.
Storm then scored twice in a three minute spell, where firstly Mario Trubucco made it 2-1 after a defensive error by the Giants defence along the boards and that allowed Darian Dziurzynski to find ‘Super Mario’ and the Canadian fired past Murphy for the lead again. Soon after the hosts thought they had another goal through Cody Cartier, as the forward made a move by the goalie and ended up in the back of the net and saw a hooking call going against the Giants Coach Derick Walser as a result.
Manchester made the most of their 5-on-3 powerplay and saw Matt Bissonnette doubling the home sides lead with a Mario Trubucco shot bouncing kindly off the back boards and straight to Bissonnette who pretty much had a empty net to aim at and put home. With a two goal lead and one that they were more than deserving of at that time, they knew they couldn’t afford to rest on their laurels against a good Belfast side and that showed when Storm were undone by a James Desmarais pass to Steve Saviano and he slotted past Spanswick for a one-goal game late in the period.
Midway through the third the Giants levelled things up with Blair Riley tipping in at the front of the net and make it all square and make it an interested conclusion to the rest of the third. Manchester and Belfast then gave as good as the other got and made for a thrilling ending to the contest with but sides almost stealing it late on.
In the end a tied game after 60 minutes was a bit harsh on the Storm in a way, but now sees the teams level heading into the second leg at the SSE Arena in Belfast next week. The home side can take a lot of confidence into the 2nd leg next week and know they can match Belfast and have been competitive against them in every game pretty much so far.
Shots on goal: Storm: Phil Spanswick 34 (3) Giants: Stephen Murphy 33 (3)
Powerplays: Manchester: 1-4 – Belfast 0-2
Penalty Minutes: Manchester : 4 – Belfast : 8
Manchester: Trevor Johnson 1+2, Mario Valery-Trabucco 1+1, Matt Bissonette 1+1, Darian Dziurzynski 0+1, Taylor Dickin 0+1
Belfast: Jeff Mason 1+0, Steve Saviano 1+0, Blair Riley 1+0, Derick Walser 0+2, Matt Nickerson 0+1, Chris Higgins 0+1, James Desmarais 0+1, Colin Shields 0+1