Champions Hockey League: Belfast Giants beat Liberec 5-4 on tournament debut

Brian Ward
Brian Ward celebrates with Belfast Giants team-mates at the SSE Arena

The Belfast Giants made it a Champions Hockey League debut to remember with a 5-4 victory over Liberec from the Czech Republic at the SSE Arena on Thursday.

All the goals were scored by new signings with Brian Ward grabbing two and Bobby Farnham, Patryk Wronka and Curtis Hamilton getting the others.

It was a sensational high octane start to the Giants' 20th season.

As expected the CHL brought a higher level but the home team, with 13 new signings in all, were not overawed.

The Giants took the lead with an early powerplay goal from Farnham and then Jordan Smotherman came within the width of a post of making it 2-0.

Liberec levelled the game at 1-1 with a power play marker of their own from Libor Hudacek.

Lewis Hook's shot was saved but Wronka forced home the rebound for Belfast, then the visitors equalised for a second time with a superb snap shot from Ronald Knot as he pounced on a loose puck.

It was another new signing who regained the lead early in the second period as Ward took the feed from Patrick Mullan and his wrist shot from the slot was too hot to handle for Liberec goalie Justin Peters.

The game then became fractious and bad-tempered as the referees struggled to keep control.

It was sparked by a huge open ice hit by new Giants captain Matt Pelech. Though it appeared clean it incensed the Czech side and retaliation came swiftly with Jesse Forsberg forced to leave the game injured after taking a high hit in the corner.

There followed a rapid succession of penalties on both teams as tempers rose.

One of those went the way of Farnham and Hudacek notched his second of the game at 31:48 to tie the score at 3-3.

Bobby Farnham was one of four Giants debutants who scored on their competitive debuts
Bobby Farnham was one of four Giants debutants who scored on their competitive debuts

The physical play continued with an edge to it and Giants defenceman Kevin Raine traded punches with Jan Ordos and as the penalties continued to be called Curtis Hamilton's one-timer on a 4-on-3 man advantage saw the Giants take the lead for a fourth time, 20 seconds before the second intermission.

As he celebrated Ben Lake was blindsided by Liberec captain Petr Jelinek who was ejected from the game.

The Giants would take full advantage of the five-minute major penalty by scoring again at 44:31 when Mullan's little wrist shot was tipped in front by Ward.

With Peters pulled for an extra attacker Liberec pulled within a goal with 28 seconds remaining when Jakub Valsky beat the otherwise impressive Giants netminder Shane Owen but the home team hold on to record a famous victory.

In the other game in Group C, Augsburg, who visit Belfast on Saturday night, edged Swedish side Lulea 3-2 after a shootout.