If the Vancouver Giants are in overtime and fans are wondering who might notch the winner it is fair to say that Bowen Byram is the player most likely predicted to score.
On Sunday afternoon at Langley Events Centre, the Giants defenceman scored the overtime winner, the fifth time in seven Vancouver victories in the three-on-three session, this time in a 5-4 victory against a hungry Kamloops Blazers team fighting an uphill battle to earn a spot in the Western Hockey League playoffs.
The Blazers (23-31-5-2, 53 points) find themselves seven points back with seven games to play.
The Giants on the other hand have the B.C. division title wrapped up and are in a dead-heat with the Everett Silvertips for top spot and home-ice advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs. Both teams sport identical 44-14-2-2 records for 92 points with six games to play. None of those remaining games are head-to-head.
In Sunday’s victory, Byram scored 29 seconds into overtime with the goal also tying Kevin Connaughton’s team record for goals by defencemen with 24.
“I am not too worried about that right now, I am just happy we got the win,” Byram said, admitting having his name in the team record books would be cool, but the focus right now is playing strong hockey and winning games.
“I tried to get some speed in the neutral zone and then I caught a guy flat-footed and had a little break there and managed to get it past the goalie,” he offered up on the winning play. “Overtime is fun, there is lots of space, lots of plays to be made. I think whenever you go to overtime, everyone is pretty excited. There are some nerves too.”
Coach Michael Dyck offered more insight onto just what makes the defenceman such a threat when teams are three-on-three.
“He has an instinct for catching guys with a loose guy because he can spring into open space like that.”
“He ends up catching guys on the way up when he is going full speed and there is no way they can handle it,” he said. “He can smell it. He jumped into a hole and he has done that a number of times. He can adjust the gap very well to the defender. If it’s tight, he will loosen it up and as soon as it is loose, he will attack.”
Milos Roman opened the scoring on Sunday but the lead was short-lived as less than a minute later, Jerzy Orchard tied the game and with a minute to go in the frame, Brodi Stuart scored on a two-man advantage. Tristan Nielsen tied things up with the only goal of the middle stanza and Dylan Plouffe put the Giants ahead 3-2 with a power-play marker 3:28 into the third but Stuart, the Langley native, potted his second of the night four minutes later, again on the power play.
Roman would make it 4-3 with a power-play goal with less than three minutes to play but the Blazers again pulled even, this time on Jermaine Loewen’s marker with 1:59 to go, setting up Byram’s heroics.
Vancouver is a perfect 7-0 against Kamloops and 27-3-1-2 against the B.C. division after a 7-4 win over the Kelowna Rockets at home on Friday, and then a 5-4 win in Kamloops last night.
The Giants now hit the road for three games in four nights, beginning Wednesday in Kamloops and then on Friday in Spokane and Saturday in Kennewick to face the Tri-City Americans.
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Highlights by the numbers
• Final score: Vancouver 5 – Kamloops 4 (OT)
• Final shots: 31-26 Vancouver
• Tendeck: 22/26 saves for Vancouver (22-10-1-1)
• Grand: 26/31 saves for Kamloops (6-7-1-1)
• Vancouver: 2/3 on the power play
• Kamloops: 2/4 on the power play
• 3 Stars: 1) Brodi Stuart (KAM – 2G); 2) Bowen Byram (VAN – 1G, 2A); 3) Milos Roman (VAN – 2G, 2A)
• This win helped the Giants improve to 7-0 on the season against Kamloops.
• This Giants win was recorded before a hometown crowd of 4,240 fans.
• Roman has registered three four-point games in his WHL career. Two have come this weekend. Roman had a goal and three assists on Friday against Kelowna followed by two goals and two assists Sunday against Kamloops. He finished the three-game stretch with four goals and five assists. He is also riding a nine-game point streak with seven goals and 16 points over that stretch.
• Byram’s fifth overtime winning goal leads the WHL and it also matches the most OT goals ever scored in a WHL season. Eric Fehr (Brandon Wheat Kings) had five OT winners back in 2004-05.
– Altogether, the Giants are 7-2 in overtime this season, which ties them with Brandon and Spokane for the league lead in overtime victories.
• With 70 points on the season, Giants overage forward Davis Koch has matched his previous season high for points in a single season. In 2016-17, Koch posted 70 points in 72 games. He’s earned 70 points in 62 games this season, 26 of his 70 points have been goals.
• With six games remaining in their 2018-19 regular season, the Vancouver Giants find themselves tied for first place in the Western Conference standings.