ICE HOCKEY: TWO goals from D.J. Rutherford sent a hard-working Coventry Blaze to defeat in their opening game of 2017 at the SEE Arena in Belfast.
Welcoming back British forward Ben Davies, Blaze were again without Canadian defenceman Shawn Boutin through injury.
In the fourth minute Blaze’s Garrett Klotz dropped the gloves with former NHL tough guy Jim Vandermeer, each receiving five minutes for fighting.
Man of the Match Robin Bergman looked the most likely scorer for the visitors in the opening period creating a handful of chances. It was though Belfast who had the better of the first 20 minutes, out-shooting their opponents 15-8, with Blaze netminder Brian Stewart standing strong.
Blaze opened the middle period killing two minor penalties before getting one of their own, Matt Nickerson penalised by referee Stefan Hogarth for boarding. On the powerplay, Brett Robinson found Robin Bergman, the Swede with a quick cross-ice pass finding Ashley Tait who made no mistake in the 37th.
Coventry’s lead though was short-lived. Giants’ D.J. Rutherford grabbing his first of the night, tenth of the Elite League season at 37.24 to send the sides to the locker room tied at 40 minutes.
Belfast finally made a powerplay count on their fifth opportunity and Rutherford was again the scorer timed at 44.52.
Klotz was then called into action for a second time at 52.57, this time fighting Belfast captain Adam Keefe. The Giants man leaving the ice after being cut in the battle.
With the clock ticking down and Brian Stewart pulled for additional skater, the Giants added two empty-net goals (Saviano 58.51 and Higgins 59.32) for a final score of 4-1.
“We were unfortunate not to get something out of the game,” said Blaze head coach Danny Stewart. “Stewy (Brian Stewart) had his best game in net all season and kept us at 0-0 after one.
“I thought we pressured them a lot in the second. We didn’t get as many shots as we would have liked but the offensive-zone time was there.
“In the third we give up the game-winning-goal on an apparent check to the head. That call was tough to take but we will re-group and get some much needed rest and get ready for next weekend.”