One Giant Star Overlooked
In the infamous words of Rodney Dangerfield, some guys ‘don’t get no respect.’ In the Vancouver Giants 6-5 victory last night against the Medicine Hat Tigers and their star, Jay Bouwmeester, the difference in the game was clearly the often spectacular play of netminder Don Choukalos [Chi-call-us].
After the Giants came out of the gate like gangbusters, jumping to a 3-0 lead in the opening five minutes, the thinking was that one more unanswered goal would surely put the Tigers out of contention. But things never played out that way.
To start, Coach Dragicevic had opted to start the game with Brett Jaeger, recently acquired from the Tigers on September 28th. This was Jaeger’s Giants debut. Dragicevic’s reasonable thinking was to let Jaeger face a team he was familiar with and to give Choukalos a much deserved rest.
Although young Jaeger (b. 1983) looked sharp in the warm-up — aptly displaying a very quick glove-hand and excellent up-and-down movement — his game was shaky. Unable to hold off the Tigers, while still never relinquishing the lead, Jaeger allowed four goals on only 14 chances before the mid-point of the second period.
Not the start one would suspect Jaeger had in mind, but opening night jitters clearly played a role. And considering what the Giants gave up to acquire him — their fourth round selection in the upcoming Bantam draft and their first round selection in the 2002 European draft (a selection that netted Marion Havel this year, who has three goals and three assists thru six games), better things are expected from Brett Jaeger.
With the Giants still up 5-4, coach Milan Dragicevic, wisely replaced his youngster with the seasoned Choukalos at the 7:43 mark of the middle frame. Choukalos, coming off some very strong road performances, most notably against the Kamloops Blazers and the Prince George Cougars, definitely righted the ship which was taking on some heavy seas.
Over the next period and a half, he faced 27 shots and surrendered but one goal. Aside from making three highlight reel saves in rapid succession in the middle of the third period — his tall, square body positioning while in his butterfly left him in brilliant form to squelch the assault — Choukalos’ sprawling two saves against WHL top-10 scorer, Joffrey Lupul, in the dying minute of the third, while holding a narrow 6-5 lead, left the 5,012 fans roaring to victory.
Although Choukalos was overlooked by coach Dragicevic to start the game — despite riding the hot-hand coming in off the road, and somewhat astonishingly unrecognized by the powers-that-be who selected the game’s three stars, Choukalos earned some respect from the local fans.
IN THE CORNER: Jay Bouwmeester, touted to be the first overall selection in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, put on a passing clinic at the Pacific Coliseum last night. Although held off the scoreboard, the kid definitely has the deft touch with the puck, especially through traffic, making passes that were crisp, flat and tape-to-tape all night long.