WHL Season Previews
Vancouver Giants look to bounce back in 2011-12 after last season’s early playoff exit
The 2011-12 version of the Vancouver Giants are quite happy to be putting last year’s Western Hockey League playoffs behind them. Finishing a respectable fifth in the Western Conference, the Giants slumped into the post-season losing 8 of their final 10 games before getting swept by the Tri-City Americans in the first round.
Behind the bench, Don Hay returns for his seventh season with the Giants, and 12th coaching in the WHL. Hay, a native of Kamloops, B.C., has led the team to six consecutive trips to the playoffs and there’s no reason that won’t change in 2011-12.
While last year’s Vancouver Giants posted the worst regular season record under Hay’s leadership (35-32-1-4), most of the cast has returned to redeem themselves, with the exception of trade deadline acquisition Spencer Bennett and starting goaltender Mark Segal.
Mature, seasoned and having gone through the ultimate playoff heartbreak machine, the Giants are ready to take the next step and battle for WHL supremacy.
No player is motivated to prove the Giants’ resurgence more than Brendan Gallagher who, once again, leads the charge on offense. Gallagher is a 5-foot-9 workhorse who plays like a mule but has the scoring pedigree of a thoroughbred. The 19-year-old from Delta, B.C. led the team in nearly every offensive statistical category including: goals (44), assists (47) and points (91); while maintaining solid two-way play (plus-30) and adding grit (108 PIMs).
Hobbled by a lack of goals in 2010-11, the team finished a dismal 14th in overall league scoring, the Giants rest their hopes on veteran James Henry and sophomore centre Dalton Sward to pick up the slack.
Henry, who returns as team captain, will try to bounce back from a 2o-point drop in points from 59 two years ago to a 39-point campaign last season, while the 6-foot-1 Sward – a 2010 first-round bantam draft pick – is sizzling in preseason play (6 points in 4 games); expect him to step into the spotlight with a breakout campaign.
In the sleeper category, look for Slovakian import Marek Tvrdon (11 points in 12 games) and smooth-skating 19-year-old Greg Lamoureux to provide secondary scoring on the wings.
The Giants’ blueline will be anchored by stalwart veteran Neil Manning who has played in at least 70 games each of the past three seasons. Second-year behemoth David Musil (listed at 6’4”, 195 lbs), drafted 31th overall in the 2011 NHL draft, will accompany Manning to form the No. 1 pairing. Manning and Musil combined for a total of 76 points and look for the defensive duo to increase that number this season.
Helping out on the back end, Zach Hodder might be the under-the-radar type that holds the key to the Giants’ success; that’s as long as he can stay healthy.
Hodder, 18, was hobbled by a shoulder injury last season but possesses an offensive arsenal (1o points, 25 games) to help add some punch to the second powerplay unit.
Goaltending holds the most concern for Giants’ brass heading into the season. Californian-native Brendan Jensen takes over for graduate Mark Segal. Jensen played 30 games last season and will look to improve on a subpar campaign (8-13-0, with a .875 save percentage).
Newcomer Jackson Whistle will start as sidekick, but if the red light gets to Jensen early look for Hay to role the dice with the 16-year-old rookie.
The Vancouver Giants start the season Friday, September 23rd when they host the Victoria Royals at Pacific Coliseum.
Puck drops at 7:30 p.m.