Patrik Polivka

Vancouver Giants 2012-13 home opener

Vancouver Giants captain Wes Vannieuwenhuizen
Newly-christened Giants captain Wes Vannieuwenhuizen was a physical presence but hit the scoresheet with an unimpressive 0G/0A/-2 in the 2012-13 season opener. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Some things never change. Even with the NHL locked out, hockey fans in Vancouver are wondering just who will be the #1 goaltender for the home team.

No, not the Canucks — pretty much everyone agrees, for better or for worse, that Roberto Luongo’s days are numbered around here — I’m talking about the Giants. Newly-acquired third-year netminder Liam Liston didn’t inspire much confidence during the 2012-13 home opener Friday night, giving up five goals on 17 shots in a 6-4 loss to the Victoria Royals. Rookie Tyler Fuhr will almost certainly get the start in the second half of the back-to-back in the capital Saturday.

Patrik Polivka
Patrik Polivka stopped 26 of 30 shots to backstop the Victoria Royals to a 6-4 opening night win over the Vancouver Giants. Photo by Jason Kurylo for Pucked in the Head.

Not all the blame can be placed upon Liston. Sure, he was vastly outplayed by Czech goalie Patrik Polivka, who stopped 26 of 30 for the visiting Royals in his first-ever WHL regular season game. Yes, he was caught behind his net when a shoot-in caromed out of the corner and gave Royals centre Steve Hodges a gimme for the opening goal. And a coach never wants to see his netminder give up a short side goal like he did on Hodges’ second of the night just a few minutes later.

But don’t let the low shot total fool you. The boys in front of Liston had a number of mental breakdowns throughout the night which allowed the visitors to build 4-1 and 5-2 leads. The Giants D managed to kill just two of four penalties and allowed Brandon Magee to walk unmolested into the slot for a series of chances before the third Victoria goal finally went in. Less than a minute into the third period the Giants seemed to have left their jump in the dressing room, letting Joe Hicketts tee it up for the fifth goal against.

Just as the crowd was starting to entertain themselves with the wave, the G-men decided to wage a bit of a comeback, netting two quick ones and threatening to tie it up for most of the final ten minutes of the third period. Alas, Polivka was up to the task, and the Royals killed off a late power play before hitting the empty net for the 6-4 win.

Brightest spot for the Giants had to be Cain Franson, younger brother of former Giant (and current, locked-out NHLer) Cody Franson. Entering his third year with Vancouver, Cain is slender (just 168 pounds on his 6’1″ frame) but has great hands and sees the offensive zone well. Both of his goals tonight came from an impressive combination of patience and speed — the first goal in particular came as he stutter-stepped a wraparound, got Polivka to drop the short side shoulder, and ripped a wrister top shelf.

Speaking of the Canucks, the Giants wore retro tribute jerseys tonight: glorious blue and red jobs in honour of the 1945-46 team that won the Pacific Coast Hockey League championship in its inaugural season. You can see Wes Vanholycowmynameislong wearing one above. Here’s a vintage shot of that winning post-war team for your archival pleasure.

1945-46 Vancouver Canucks
Well before the NHL ever sniffed around the Lower Mainland, there were teams called the Vancouver Canucks. The 1945-46 team won the PCHL championship, wearing a beautiful blue and red jersey with a stark white V across the chest.