The Vancouver Whitecaps are in Tucson, Arizona as they continue their preparations for the 2016 MLS regular season. I, on the other hand, have decided to keep my mind firmly static in 2015 – the days when I had a job, a robust hairline and a life with purpose. You, dear reader, will have to drag me, whining and defecating, into the present. Or, just wait another week when I’m forced to produce a Whitecaps Wednesday piece not beginning with “The Top 5 of 2015”, as the following represents the final entry into said endeavour.
That’s right, we have officially reached the gold medal winner on this completely arbitrary list composed by myself in conjunction with nothing and no one. I recognize that this may not be the best method in which to compose a list, but somehow, I always manage to justify my writing and I’ll be damned if I don’t. So then, with that out of the way, I hereby present to you the top game of 2015 for the Vancouver Whitecaps.
The Vancouver Giants took three of a possible four points during WHL action this weekend, keeping their slender playoff hopes alive. Sitting tenth and last in the Western Conference, the G-Men are nonetheless within an unconverted touchdown of the 8th and final post-season berth at the moment held by the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Portland Winterhawks. That said, the Hawks have two games in hand, and have put daggers in Vancouver hearts just too many times to think they’ll roll over and die for us in the final 20 games.
They’ll need a run of strong play and serious puck luck, but the Giants are more likely to catch the equally slimy, smarmy, lecherous Kamloops Blazers, who currently sit in seventh place. Not only are Loops on a horrid run at the moment — having won just two of their last ten games — but the Giants play them head-to-head five times in the final few weeks of the season. That’s ten points up for grabs. Sweep that series, and the Giants are almost guaranteed a playoff spot.
The thing is, much like their NHL cousins up the road at Rogers Arena, the Giants just haven’t shown any kind of consistency to inspire hope for this season. Sure, injuries have played a part — a projected first-round pick in the NHL draft this summer, Tyler Benson has missed most of the season with lower body injuries — but there are games when entire platoons of Giants seem to take the night off.
After a dismal 5-16-4 start to the season, General Manager Scott Bonner started making some roster moves to change the vibe in the dressing room. It seemed to work, as Vancouver put together a remarkable run. They won 12 of the next 18 games. Buzz started circulating about goaltender Ryan Kubic, who rose as one of the team’s more solid pieces. Recent addition Chase Lang has provided timely offence, and a skilful grit around the end boards that the team hasn’t seen since Milan Lucic wore Vancouver colours.
Defenseman Brennan Menell has been wonderful through most of the year — let’s not count his -4 performance against Victoria two weekends ago, because everyone on the team took a nap that night — and has chipped in a respectable 38 points in 52 games from the blueline.
Forward Ty Ronning has also scored at a wicked pace, earning a place at the CHL Top Prospects game held here a couple of weeks ago. He scored even in that heady arena, with Don Cherry, Bobby Orr and countless hockey pundits in the building, and raised his stock in the June draft immeasurably.
But something clicked off mid-January. Momentum shifted, somehow, and gone are the three- and four-game win streaks. Instead, it’s been .500 hockey for the past dozen or so games. When you’re trying to catch teams in the standings, you need to string together a few Ws. Unfortunately for Vancouver, there’s just been too much reliance upon Ronning and Lang up front, and Kubic at the back end. Without a legitimate second line to help outscore their mistakes, the Giants pretty much have to play perfect hockey to have a hope of extending their season.
Centre Carter Popoff had 64 points two seasons ago, but dropped off to 50 last year and has just 29 this season. Behind him, Alec Baer has a career best 33 points, but he’s a bit of a defensive adventure; Baer is -15 through 52 games, and has a tendency to wander away from his check through the rear two zones of the ice. Slovak winger Radovan Bondra has shown flashes of promise, but only has 18 points in 42 games and an abysmal -18 plus/minus rating.
Overall, let’s be honest, this is a team that probably should be on the bubble. With the man-games they’ve lost to injury, it’s no surprise Vancouver is on the outside looking in again this year. It’s a long shot, but if they put together a few strong outings, especially in those five games against the Blazers, there might just be some post-season play to come.
With lots of Whitecaps rumours and news this week surrounding the acquisition of Blas Pérez and departure of Mauro Rosales, I briefly considered suspending the Top 5 of 2015 series for one week. But then my pal and yours, Jason, tossed up his own review of said happenings and generously added in my own take as a footnote to boot. Perfect. Perhaps, at a later date, I will expunge my feelings on that subject further, but for now, let us forge ahead with the Top 5 countdown and review the Silver medal match of 2015.
Entries five, four and three were certainly delicious, but the top two spots are rich in nutritional value and high in fibre while being even scrummier and more fulfilling than the previous three. On June 6, 2015, the Whitecaps sailed into the most hostile of territories and managed to achieve a remarkable feat on both a micro and macro level.
Say what you will, but you can’t complain that the Whitecaps have been idle this off-season. After acquiring Japanese striker Masato Kudo and Costa Rican midfielder Christian Bolaños, the Caps went out and landed… Blas Pérez?!?!?
The man people love to hate is on his way to Tuscon to suit up for the blue and white in some early pre-season matches. In case you don’t remember, this is the guy who elbowed Jordan Harvey in the head, drew fouls on Kendall Waston with blatant dives, and got under the skin of Pa Madou Kah. Still not convinced? His twitter handle is @superraton7, for crying out loud — that’s just Spanish for, you guessed it, Super Rat 7.
The fact is, Blas Pérez has scored at a respectable clip during his MLS tenure, netting 37 goals in 103 appearances for FC Dallas. Yes, he is renowned for diving, and for no shortage of dirty play in tight against defenders, but advantages threefold exist in having him in Whitecaps colours:
1) If he’s not scoring against the Whitecaps, which he has been known to do, maybe, just maybe he’ll be scoring for them. David Ousted, for one, will be mighty happy to hear that.
2) Carl Robinson doesn’t go in for simulation, and no doubt will do his best to limit the bullshit.
3) Who’s to say the Whitecaps might just need a little side of nasty on the roster now and again. Waston can’t get all the yellow cards, can he?
Love him or hate him — and there are plenty of people who do the latter round these parts — the addition of Blas Pérez makes the Whitecaps a better team. Who knows, if we see the goat horns ten or fifteen times this season, maybe even the Southsiders might come around and like Super Rat.
In closing, let me quote soccer poet Russell Arbuthnot:
“If nothing else, [the addition of] Pérez signifies the end of the Darren Mattocks experiment, which is a good enough return for me.”
Ty Ronning was a last-minute addition to the CHL Top Prospects Game — Giants teammate Tyler Benson was unable to go due to injury — but the diminutive winger proved he could run with the big boys on Thursday night at the Pacific Coliseum in front of more than 10,000 fans, media and hockey brass.
The annual junior hockey showcase started 14 years ago as a friendly $100 wager between Don Cherry and Bobby Orr, but has since grown into one of the premier hockey events in the country. Every NHL team sends a team of scouts and management, and a horde of media representing outlets from across the hockey world descend upon the host venue for three days of testing, promotion and draft day speculation.
With all that high-level talent in the room, pro teams use this event as a sketchpad for future planning. This year’s class of athlete was no exception, with several players shining big time in the spotlight. Pascal Laberge of the Victoriaville Tigers had his stock go way, way up after netting two goals and setting up the game-winner for Team Orr. Ronning, for his part, skated well and opened the scoring early in the first period. “It was maybe the loudest cheer I’ve ever had,” said Ronning after the game. “It was a real thrill, for sure.”
Perhaps the most common refrain of the night: “Good lord, Logan Stanley is a large man.” The 17-year-old from Waterloo, Ontario plays defense for the Windsor Spitfires. He’s listed at 6’7.25″, 225lbs. Put him next to Ty Ronning (5’8.75″, 163lbs), and you’re not even sure if they’re the same species.
Of course, for old time hockey fans, the figureheads of Don Cherry and Bobby Orr are irresistible. They’re great spokesmen for the game, and especially for the junior game on display here. “I thought every kid here tonight played wonderful hockey. These players, many of them, will be on Hockey Night in Canada for years to come,” said Orr after the game (and after signing countless autographs for excited fans and collectors). “They’re just so well prepared, so well coached, so well conditioned these days.”
When asked what he thinks about the state of the game today, he said there’s a lot to like: “I don’t mind the 3-on-3 overtime. I think that’s exciting. I don’t want to see 3-on-3 games, mind you, but it’s going to be a lot of fun at the All-Star Game. There’s going to be lots of goals scored, I’m sure lots of 3-on-nothings. For an All-Star Game, a special occasion like this, it’s fun.”
What about the Legends? “For the old guys we’d better put more bodies out there. Maybe like rugby, you know, sevens.”
After getting entries four and five out of the way, we’ve officially reached the podium positions in our Top 5 of 2015 game review series. It only seems fitting as anticipation for the 2016 season mounts with the Caps having arrived back in town for training camp. And what better way to celebrate than by sitting down with a frosty brew (might I suggest a Four Winds Pale Ale?*), taking a load off and wasting some time reading Pucked in the Head while those players bust their asses running laps and submitting themselves to arduous fitness testing? In case you need some more time to finish your drink, catch up on our previous installments – you can find entry 5 here, and entry 4 here.
Now, without further ado, in the Bronze medal spot we take a peek back to the happenings at BC place on April 4, 2015 – just the fifth game of the young season for the Whitecaps. The match was a significant one for the team because of the opponent, because of the result and because of the method in which they delivered that result.
Pitchers and catchers report next month, and baseball’s winter is quickly drawing to a close (regardless of what the weather may be saying). Spring training is coming!
To that end, and to get fans a chance to meet some of the new players and hang out in the friendly confines of Safeco Field, the Mariners do FanFest each year. This year’s edition runs from 11A-4P both Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults, kids 14 and under are free.
There are so many things going on this weekend that I can’t list them all here, but highlights include:
* The perennial favorite, Run Around the Bases
* A zip line across the outfield
* Clubhouse tours
* Pitch in the bullpen
* Appearances from, and interviews with, various Mariner players
* See Nelson Cruz’ Silver Slugger award from 2015
and much, much more!
Your faithful baseball scribe is dusting off the keyboard; look for more soon on the Mariners’ many moves this offseason, how the rest of the AL West is stacking up, and more.
As we creep ever closer to the opening of the 2016 MLS season (you can take a look at the Whitecaps full schedule here), PITHites are being subjected to a peek back at what I deem to be the top five Caps games of 2015. It’s kind of like one of those cobbled-together “Year in Review” we see frequently and repeatedly throughout the holiday season, except this isn’t nearly as long and contains less upper-management-sanctioned “witty banter.” This is week two of our little experiment here so, naturally, that means that up for review this week is entry number four on our list of five.
I should clarify that the criterion for games being on this list extends beyond good feels and positivity, as evidenced by this selection. We’re going to travel back to August 15, 2015 and look at a game that, to me, imitated the Whitecaps’ entire season in a thorough 90-minute display of hope, potential, success, decline and ultimately, failure.
The Vancouver Giants relied on hustle, muscle, and a little luck on Friday night. However, it wasn’t enough to overcome a fast, skilled Everett Silvertips team at the Pacific Coliseum. The Giants got two goals in quick succession in the first period to briefly hold a 2-1 lead, but let Everett slip away with the two points.
Let’s be honest: the Silvertips should win this game. They’re first in the US Division, and came into the night on a seven-game unbeaten streak. This is a good hockey team.
Ryan Kubic might want the winning goal back, but he can’t be blamed for the loss. He allowed three pucks by him on 22 shots, but good gravy the Tips looked dangerous on just about every rush up the ice.
For his part, Silvertips goalie Carter Hart spent long stretches of the game idle, but made the stops necessary to win the game. The Giants pushed and prodded late, swarming the net and crashing the boards. They even drew a penalty late, and spent the final minute of the game with a 6-on-4 man advantage. It was tense, with most of the 4,000+ fans in the building screaming “SHOOOOOOT” — it was shades of Thomas Gradin here at the Coliseum for a while there — but in the end, the Tips held out for their 25th win of the year.
Want some clichés? The best players on the Tips roster were their best players tonight. Remi Laurencelle got on the board early with a deft redirect from the slot, and had two assists. For the Giants, Chase Lang and Ty Ronning were held goalless — although Lang did hit one hell of a post with 90 seconds left in regulation, and Ronning nearly potted one in the second period — and secondary scoring just didn’t pick up the slack.
The Giants applied a disciplined, physical game, especially in the third period. It’s a good plan when they stick to it, because quick teams like Everett have a hard time adjusting. For the plan to work, however, they need to take advantage of the chances they manage to create. Several Giants had pucks in prime scoring positions, but either had shots blocked or put it right in Hart’s bread basket.
The next Giants game comes tomorrow night against the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Prince George Cougars. Get your tickets here.
It’s been a tale of two seasons for the Vancouver Giants. Between September 28 and December 6, the team won just six times in 28 tries. Since then, they’ve earned two points in 9 of the last 13 games. This last week alone, the G-men brought home a remarkable ten of twelve available points on a tricky road trip that saw them play five games in four different cities in just eight nights.
Whew. Numbers, right?
The changes started at the top. GM Scott Bonner announced that he would move on at the end of this season, then proceeded to make a schwack of moves to alter the chemistry in the locker room. And while no one will give up the name(s) of the player(s) who were poison in the room, the team has been playing much better since the moves started.
Ty Ronning has been the very picture of consistency through all the turmoil; his 25 goals sees him among the league’s best snipers. Defenseman Brennan Menell has upped his game in his sophomore season, already eclipsing last year’s offensive output. Netminder Ryan Kubic has been a revelation in the second half, posting three consecutive shutouts at one point.
The much-heralded Tyler Benson has been a point-a-game guy when he’s in the lineup. Sadly, he’s yet to play at 100% this season — management hopes he’ll be back to form by the time the Top Prospects game rolls around later this month.
The fact is, the G-Men are far more successful, and infinitely more entertaining to watch, when they crash and bang as a team. They’re doing that right now. As they threaten to make the playoff race interesting, that makes the Coliseuma mighty fine place to be.
The next Giants home game is Friday at 7:30 against the dirty, rotten, stinkin’ Everett Silvertips. Get your tickets here.