It was nearly a perfect night for Cole Shepard.
Making his WHL debut following hip surgery in May, the 17-year-old rookie wasted little time making an impact for the Vancouver Giants scoring both in the second period and again in the shootout.
The storybook ending would have been for Shepard’s shootout goal to stand as the winner, but the Swift Current Broncos had other ideas, scoring to extend the skills session. Both those goals came in the third round and it would take another six shooters apiece before Sergei Alkhimov struck for the Giants in round nine and Trent Miner turned aside the Broncos’ Hayden Ostir on the subsequent attempt for the 4-3 Vancouver victory on Saturday night at Langley Events Centre.
Vancouver improved to 7-6-0-0 while Swift Current saw their record fall to 2-6-1-2.
“It was a long six months for me. Just a huge relief to get back and it was awesome to get the win in my return,” said a smiling Shepard post-game. “I felt a little rusty but I got going after the first couple of shifts.”
Shepard skated on a line with his older brother Jackson and Milos Roman but his goal came with the teams at four-on-four. Shepard took the puck in the defensive zone and found himself on a two-on-one with Bowen Byram and made no mistake, picking his spot to beat goaltender Reece Klassen to the glove side.
Head coach Michael Dyck admitted the rookie was better than he expected in his debut considering his lengthy lay-off. And he is also just what the team needs as they look to boost their scoring attack.
“(Cole) has got that skill we need in order to finish around the net. He has the ability to finish and we certainly need that. He is the type of guy that we need,” Dyck said. “We have a lot of guys who work hard and get pucks deep but don’t have that touch around the net and you need that.”
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The Broncos led 1-0 after 20 minutes with Ben King intercepting the puck and beating a scrambling Miner after the goaltender turned the puck over.
The Giants went ahead with a pair of goals in the middle frame as Byram’s point shot through traffic beat Klassen at 1:18 and Shepard gave the home side their first lead with just over five minutes to play in period. Vancouver looked like they would take a lead into intermission but Kasper Puutlo pounced on a loose puck in the crease to knot the score at two with a dozen seconds to play.
Tristan Nielsen made it 3-2 for the Giants after getting a step on the defender and then deking out Klassen less than five minutes into the third. Ethan Regnier would pull the Broncos even once again just over three minutes later.
In the shootout, Lukas Svejkovsky, Cole Shepard and Alkhimov scored for the Giants while Ethan Regnier and Connor Horning replied for the Broncos.
The Giants were coming off a 6-0 loss the night before in Kamloops and Dyck liked his team’s effort following their worse loss of the season.
“It was a good response from last night. We weren’t happy with our effort so it was a good response,” he said.
Vancouver is right back at it on Sunday afternoon as they welcome the Victoria Royals to Langley Events Centre with a 4 p.m. puck drop in the second of four straight home games (and nine of 12 games). This comes on the heels of the team spending 10 of their first dozen games on the road, including a two-week trek through Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
Vancouver outshot Swift Current 39-26.
Neither power play was able to score as the Broncos were 0-3 (including a man advantage which bridged the end of regulation and the start of overtime) and the Giants went 0-for-2.
Photos by Rik Fedyck/Vancouver Giants