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.
Should they win many things? Probably. Manager Carl Robinson has done a masterful job of assembling a deep, talented roster. Will they? If they go on the attack as relentlessly as they did Sunday, quite possibly. This day, though, they died by the sword. The Caps, known for a deadly counterattack last year, carried much of the play on day one, but gave up multiple goals on the break to fall 3-2 to the dreaded Surrender Monkeys from Montreal.
As Carl Robinson said in the post-game presser, “We gifted Montreal these three points, if we’re to give an honest assessment.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
The Whitecaps began their third MLS playoff campaign on Sunday afternoon six hours down the I-5 in rainy Portland, Oregon. Hopes were high among Vancouver supporters. The club had just scored multiple goals in a game for the first time in nearly two months, some of their injured players were rumoured to be available, and they’d got the matchup that looked the best, on paper, after the Timbers eliminated Sporting Kansas City in one of the most entertaining penalty kick contests you will ever see. Then the game started, and the offence was once again maddeningly anemic. Continue reading Whitecaps Play For Nil-Nil, Get Their Wish→
If you’ve spent any amount of time around the Pacific Coliseum this season, you’ve heard someone or other mutter that Vancouver Giants GM Scott Bonner has some tough choices to make. With franchise poster boy Tyler Benson back from off-season surgery to remove a cyst from his low back, not to mention three viable WHL goaltenders crowding the crease, the Giants just had too many hands on deck. A good problem to have, you may say, but with just 10 points in the first 12 games, the G-Men needed a change.
At 20 years of age, Houck is in his fifth WHL season, all of which have been spent in Vancouver. He has scored 91 goals and 108 assists for 199 points in 267 games, good for seventh spot on the franchise’s all-time scoring list. While Tyler Benson recovered from off-season surgery to remove a cyst from his low back, Houck wore the captain’s C. Houck was not offered a contract by the Edmonton Oilers, who drafted him 94th overall in 2013, and is now a free agent.
Left winger Jakob Stukel is probably looking forward to a change in scenery after scoring just 16 points in 49 games as a WHL rookie last season. Originally a blue-chip prospect, Stukel has struggled to find rhythm at the WHL level and isn’t listed on many scouts’ radar in this, his draft year. Cody Porter, for his part, likely welcomes a shift as well; he has made just two appearances in the Giants net this season after playing a full 40 games last year.
Coming to Vancouver are a pair of 19-year-old picks in the 2014 NHL Draft. Chosen 119th overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning, Ben Thomas offers some help to a Giants back end that has had difficulty closing out games in the third period so far this season. His challenge will be to fill the shoes vacated by Mason Geertsen, who anchored Vancouver defensively as well as quarterbacking the power play.
Chase Lang is a sixth-round pick of the Minnesota Wild (167th overall) who was just shy of a point a game with the high-flying Hitmen last season. Hopefully, he’ll appreciate being closer to his hometown of Nanaimo, and use that to put up some similar numbers at the Coliseum.
With Houck’s departure, the Giants are currently carrying only two overage (20-year-old) players; the WHL maximum is three, and it’s extremely unusual for teams to play a full season without taking advantage of those older bodies on the roster. Look for Scott Bonner to make at least one more deal in further efforts to shake up the lacklustre dressing room that has, frankly, lost too many games for too many seasons.
With the Top Prospects game mere weeks away, the full attention of the country’s best hockey minds will soon land on Vancouver; it’s in Bonner’s best interest to give Tyler Benson every opportunity to shine before then.