Not so long ago, I was tapped by Leaf Trading Cards to shoot photos for their junior hockey series.
I have dozens of dynamic action shots I’m super proud of, but the first one that got picked up for a set is this rather pedestrian still shot of draft prospect defenseman Max Lajoie. There are three more pics that are coming in a subsequent set, including two of Vancouver Giants Ty Ronning and Ryan Kubic; this one, however, will always be my first trading card credit.
Last week, the Vancouver Canucks held a couple of town hall meetings with season ticket holders, in which President Trevor Linden and GM Jim Benning outlined the direction of the team, such as it is, and defended themselves against accusations of general incompetence.
Notably absent from accounts of this meeting was any discussion of head coach Willie Desjardins. The Canucks bench boss seems to me to be coasting along in the wake of terribleness left by the front office. Lost amid the annoyance of the stupid money given to Derek Dorsett is the fact that Dorsett is getting more ice time than youngster Jake Virtanen, with no benefit to the club at all. Sven Baertschi is only barely ahead of Brandon Prust. Jared McCann is dead even with Adam Cracknell. For an organization that’s prioritizing youth development at the moment, these decisions are incredibly odd, but with Benning flushing assets down the toilet on the waiver wire every week and blundering through trade after trade, nobody seems to pay attention to the coach.
Desjardins is not a tactically strong coach. He was roundly out-coached in last year’s playoffs by Bob Hartley. His stubborn refusal to deploy the Sedins for offensive zone faceoffs to maximize their output, as Alain Vigneault did during his tenure, has cost the club countless scoring opportunities this season.
Desjardins was this regime’s guy. He was the anti-Torts. The one to nurture the kids after a year of neglect. It’s no surprise, then, that odds-makers don’t favour him to be shown the door any time soon. If, though, the Canucks are really serious about making the playoffs every year during this rebuild, he’ll need to be replaced sooner rather than later.
For the all the talk of what if and if only, there hasn’t been much hope of post-season hockey in Vancouver for some time now; high profile injuries and fair to middling rosters have plagued both the Giants and Canucks all season. At the Coliseum, the G-Men put up a generous fight during the middle part of the season, but a disastrous start has been mirrored by a terrible stretch run to put them a dozen points out of a playoff spot with only a handful of games remaining.
It’s an all-too familiar story this season: the Vancouver Giants jump out to an early lead, only to see plucky opposition teams chip away and eventually win the game.
On Sunday, however, playing their third game in as many nights, Vancouver seemed determined to get Jake Morrissey his first win in Giants colours. It was Morrissey’s first start at the Pacific Coliseum; he’d made it into seven games in one form or another earlier in the season, but only been credited with three losses and had that big fat zero looming in the W column for some time.
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.
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.”
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.
If you’re one of the fifteen people who regularly attended Abbotsford Heat games, you’re not surprised to learn that this Jacob Markstrom kid can tend goal. See, before he took the Utica Comets to the AHL championship series last season, Markstrom played three full seasons in the Florida Panthers system (with the Rochester Americans and San Antonio Rampage). Despite lacking a nickname of any sort, Jacob Markstrom seemed to have the local boys’ number.
Here is where a thoughtful writer would put in some research to get actual statistics, but I’m going to eschew that process in favour of made-up stuff. And I’ll also throw random nicknames at the wall in hopes something sticks. Jacob took two-two points out of the Valley like no hooded fang’s business. The Man They Call Mister Marley beat the Heat no fewer than 157 out of 158 games at the Abbotsford Sport and Entertainment Centre over a three-year period, and earned no fewer than seven thousand shutouts.
Okay, so numbers aren’t my strong suit. Suffice to say, the boy can play.
Back on November 16, 2013, Tyler Benson made his WHL debut. He wore a full face cage, as rules stipulate Bantam-aged prospects must. He also stood 5’11” and weighed 185 pounds at the time, which should probably be against the rules when you’re 15 years old. Here’s a picture I took at that game, as Benson tried a shifty backdoor play. He didn’t get on the scoresheet that night, but he’s figured prominently in Vancouver ever since.
Friday was 27 degrees Celsius, a truly glorious day. I took my daughter to her second day of Kindergarten, ducked into Governor General Literary Award winner The Sisters Brothers, then proceeded to spend the afternoon playing with Lego and making some decidedly awesome Chesapeake Bay chicken. Literally, I played the winner, winner, chicken dinner card.
The evening got better. I shot SFU hockey, then ran a personal best 5km at the track while watching my old school’s football team put up a truckload of points against a lesser rival. Spent over an hour chatting with five-time Grey Cup champion Leroy Moss after he complimented me on my run — yes, he’s the uncle of Randy Moss — and he happens to be a charming and generous storyteller to boot. He spent time with the BC Lions, Edmonton Eskimos and Cincinnati Bengals, and played with and/or against the likes of Warren Moon, Lui Passaglia, Tom Wilkinson and Larry Highbaugh. Nice talking to you, Leroy!
Enjoy my first hockey pictures of the 2015-16 season, from pre-season action between the SFU Clan and the Trinity Spartans. Against the flow of play, TWU took the game 3-1 down at Bill Copeland Arena in Burnaby.