If Ethan Samson makes it as an NHL defenceman, he’s going to have to get used to the glitz and glamour that comes with of playing in front of national TV audience and rise to the occasion.
Kind of like he did Friday night in Langley.
With the country tuned in to the TSN broadcast, the Philadelphia Flyers draft pick turned in one of his best games in three seasons as a Cougar, scoring two goals, including the gamewinner, in a 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Giants to end the Cats’ five-game losing streak.
The winner came 1:58 into OT, and Samson started it in his own end with a burst of speed to go the length of the ice win a footrace with Ty Thorpe. His one-handed shot was stopped by goalie Jesper Vikman and the puck rolled to the side of the net for Jonny Hooker, who fed Connor Bowie in the slot. Bowie’s hard low shot was stopped and the Samson, with his family from Delta watching, was there to tuck the rebound into the open net for his eighth goal of the season.
It was the first game for the Cougars since Jan. 1 and the win improved their seventh-place Western Division record to 14-17-1-1 as they moved within two points of the sixth-place Giants (15-16-2-0).
“That was, for sure, the most enjoyable win of the year,” said Cougars assistant coach Josh Dixon. “Given the circumstance, you’re playing on national television, that’s a big deal for these guys. You don’t know what you’re going to get with so much time off and guys coming out of COVID protocol and all the rest of it.
“They were a better team to start the game and came at us hard and we were on our toes a little bit, and to find a way to battle back and tie the game and then a real solid 40 minutes there and a win in overtime, I’m real happy for the guys.”
Given his first chance to prove himself worthy of his newfound status as the top-ranked North American goaltender available in the 2022 NHL draft, Tyler Brennan did not disappoint. He was positionally sound, smothering rebounds and redirecting saved pucks to his defencemen in ways they didn’t force them out of their own comfort zone. He also made some scintillating stops among the 39 shots the Giants directed at him, starting with a breakaway stop to deny Cole Shepard in the first minute of the game.
“You get the sense watching Tyler Brennan, you wouldn’t know if he was in overtime of a Game 7 championship game or if it was an exhibition game in the first period, he’s just got that even keel to his approach to playing,” said TSN colour commentator Craig Button, a former head scout of the Dallas Stars from 1992-98. “That permeates through the team, his calmness keeps everybody else in a state of calm.”
Through no fault of Brennan, the Cougars trailed this one 2-0. Vancouver forward Justin Lies went to his backhand to rifle in a rebound after Brennan shot across the crease to kick out Zack Ostapchuk’s initial shot on an odd-man rush. The Giants doubled their lead 4:32 into the second period when they created a turnover behind the Cougar net captain Justin Sourdif’s shot from the point slid behind a screened Brennan.
But the Cougars didn’t get mad. They got even.
Samson unleashed a hard slapper from the blueline, 12:37 into the second period, after Hudson Thornton went deep behind the goal-line to dig the puck out for his defence partner. Carlin Dezainde, acquired three weeks ago in a trade from Medicine Hat, also had a hand in setting up the play.
Two minutes later, Riley Heidt sprung Koehn Zimmer free with the puck on the left wing and Ziemmer, his eyes glued on Cougar defenceman Viliam Kmec cruising in down the right side as a passing option, fired a no-look shot that found the net in behind Vikman.
“He’s a horse for us every single night, no question about it,” said Dixon, referring to the 19-year-old Samson. “But he was feeling it tonight. I think that’s five goals for him on the year where he just one-times that puck coming back to the point. He’s got a heckuva release and that was a big goal for us and what a move he made in overtime, that one-handed shot attempt in overtime and he sticks with it and bangs it in. Outstanding for him.”
The Cougars outshot the Giants 12-7 in the second period but Vancouver came put flying in the third period and directed 16 more pucks at Brennan. In the game, the Giant held a 39-38 edge in shots.
Tied 2-2, the Cougars had a glorious chance to snap the deadlock midway through the third period when Ziemmer drew a penalty shot after he was dragged to his knees rom behind by defenceman Ethan Toth on a solo rush. Ziemmer’s stagger-step move as he cruised in on the penalty shot try was read well by Vikman and the Swedish world junior team goalie dropped his leg parallel to the ice to absorb the shot.
The game had just one power play, which went to the Cougars when Adam Hall got caught high sticking late in the first period. The league’s worst power play, statistically, looked sharp and kept the puck in the Giants’ zone almost the entire two minutes, testing Vikman several times.
The same teams meet again Saturday in Langley.