The Portland Winterhawks won 2-1 against the Vancouver Giants Friday night in the Langley Events Centre in Langley, British Columbia. One massive contributor to Portland’s win was the Winterhawks’ starting goaltender, Jan Špunar. Špunar had a career-high 40 saves, and earned first star of the game for his efforts. Špunar is in his rookie season in the WHL, and so far has a record of 9-1-1.
The first match of this doubleheader between Portland and Vancouver saw momentum playing key parts throughout the match. In the first period, the home Giants had the early edge. The first major scoring chance came just over halfway through the first period, when Vancouver found themselves on the power play. Jaden Lipinski received a pass and looked toward the Portland net from the top of the faceoff circle. Lipinski saw Ty Thorpe in front of the net and sent a pass right to his stick at the far post. Thorpe would deflect the shot, but the puck would kick high off his stick and go over the net.
After the penalty kill, the Winterhawks’ offense went to work. Portland was able to generate numerous scoring chances through the second half of the opening period. Most notably, alternate captain Jack O’Brien would find Josh Zakreski in the slot for a one-timer chance. Unfortunately for Portland, Zakreski would fan on the shot, leaving an easy pad save for Vancouver goaltender Jesper Vikman. However, the rebound off Zakreski’s shot was corralled by James Stefan. Stefan would attempt to loft his rebound shot, but it would ring off the post and be sent away. After 20 minutes, the game would remain tied at 0-0.
The second period opened with another high-quality chance for the Vancouver Giants. Just inside two minutes of action, a drop pass left Tyler Thorpe at the top of the offensive zone. Thorpe would wheel away from one Winterhawk forward, and snap a quick wrist shot on net before the Portland defense could collapse on him. Thorpe’s shot would be saved at center mass by Špunar, and the game would remain scoreless.
Despite Portland being outshot in the second period 8-13, the Winterhawks’ chances were A grade. Gabe Klassen had a breakaway on the power play with 16:24 remaining in the period, that would ring off the iron. Then, with just over seven minutes remaining in the period, a one-timer shot from Luca Cagnoni would be snared by the glove of Vikman.
The first goal of the game would come just inside five minutes remaining in the 2nd period. A stretch pass from blue line to blue line would send Marcus Nguyen into the offensive zone. Nguyen would quickly dish the puck across the zone, to find Kyle Chyzowski with space. Chyzowski’s wrist shot would beat Vikman high stick side, and sneak inside the near post to make the score 1-0, Portland.
Portland would not sit on their one-goal lead entering the third period. The Winterhawks’ power play had a chance to extend Portland’s lead. A pass from Cagnoni at the point, to Klassen at the wing, freed up space for a one-timer chance for O’Brien in the high slot. Vikman would make the save, but the rebound would be backhanded in by Robbie Fromm-Delorme at the near post.
With Portland now leading 2-0, Vancouver piled on shots in the third period. The Giants had 16 total shots on goal in the final 20 minutes of play. They would also find a window back into the game with 7:37 remaining in the period. On an even-man rush, Vancouver’s Ty Halaburda turned on the jets and got the edge on the Portland defense. From the faceoff dot, Halaburda would send a quick wrister past the elbow of Špunar and inside the near post to cut Portland’s lead in half.
Vikman would have to make a few great saves in the last few minutes of action to keep Vancouver’s chances of a win alive. A wide-angle shot from Fromm-Delorme led to a rebound chance for Aidan Litke. Luckily for Vancouver, Litke’s deflection was saved by Vikman. Vikman also stuffed a breakaway chance for Chyzowski with just 18 seconds remaining in the game.
Unfortunately for the Giants, the clock would strike 0:00, and the Winterhawks would hold on to get the 2-1 win. Vikman finished the game with 29 saves on 31 shots, and Špunar would have a personal best of 40 saves on 41 shots.
Game two of the back-to-back between Portland and Vancouver will be played Saturday, Dec. 17 in Veterans Memorial Coliseum, at 6:00 p.m.