The Vancouver Giants are just a few games past the halfway mark of the Western Hockey League season and they find themselves near the top of the league-wide standings. The Giants own a .689 winning percentage and continue to battle both the Medicine Hat Tigers and Kootenay Ice for the top spot.
Cody Franson, selected 79th overall by Nashville in 2005 NHL entry draft, has played an important role along the blue line for Vancouver, along with stalwarts Mark Fistric (DAL), Brendan Mikkelson (ANA), John Flatters (PHI) and Brett Festerling (ANA). A total of nine Giants are eligible for the 2006 entry draft, while five players are 2007 eligible. With the city of Vancouver scheduled to host the 2007 Memorial Cup, the Giants may be poised for a lengthy playoff run this season.
Franson, who stands 6’5 and tips the scales at 205 pounds, has scored 9 goals and 23 assists in 45 games this season, while Paul Albers, his partner on defense, has posted identical numbers in 38 games. Their combined production has surpassed that of higher profile WHL pairings like Cam Barker (CHI) and Gord Baldwin (CGY) in Medicine Hat and Alex Edler (VAN) and Mike Card (BUF) in Kelowna.
The next few weeks will seriously challenge Franson’s durability as his workload is expected to increase due to injuries. Mikkelson has re-aggravated a wonky knee and is not expected to return until early February. Fistric broke his ankle while blocking a shot last week and will be sidelined until late February.
The re-assignment of Gilbert Brule by the Columbus Blue Jackets for the remainder of the season is expected to provide some welcome offensive spark.
Hockey’s Future caught up to Franson in Kelowna following the Giants fifth of nine meetings with their BC Division rivals. A native of Sicamous, BC, Franson, 18, is a well-spoken and mature young man. He shared some insights on the Giants season so far and his play to date.
HF: How has the season gone so far for the Giants? You’ve had a pretty good stretch of about 20 games now.
CF: For sure, we’ve got real good team chemistry and that’s what’s getting us through most of it. When we go through some tough times, we’re not jumping all over each other, so that’s a reason we’ve been winning.
HF: How about yourself? How do feel your game has evolved this season over the first 40 games?
CF: I think I’m moving the puck pretty well and got shot through to the net. Picking up some points, too. Like always, I have to keep working on my physical aspect and skating.
HF: You’re playing with Paul Albers, a 20-year-old free agent. How’s it going as a pairing? You’re both picking up some points.
CF: It’s real easy to play with Paul. He talks a lot and always seems to find the right spot out there. We know how to find each other out there, so it makes things a lot easier.
HF: Based on the number of combined wins by teams in the BC Division (Vancouver, Kamloops, Kelowna, Prince George, Kootenay) it’s likely the toughest division in the WHL.
CF: The teams in this division this year, anybody can end up anywhere in the standings, so every game it’s like a four-point game. You’ve got no choice, you have to come out and be ready to compete every night.
HF: Have you had any contact with the Predators during the first half of the season?
CF: A couple of times. They came down to watch me in Vancouver and I saw them during the World Juniors there, but really not too much other than that.
HF: When the WJC kind of moved in and took over your home rink, what kind of impact did the event have on the Giants?
CF: Well, it wasn’t too bad for us. We went on our Alberta swing during that and we came home after winning four out of five. I don’t think it affected us too much, but being on the road for those games sure helped us to stay in shape.
HF: After your first Giants training camp, you were released and then chose to play that season in the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League with the Beaver Valley Nitehawks. How did that decision impact your junior career?
CF: I played the exhibition schedule with Vancouver and then they let me go. That’s when Nitehawks general manager Hank Deadmarsh (father of former NHLer, Adam) called me. It was a great experience. It was my first year away from home.
HF: Some pretty good players have spent time with the Nitehawks. Jake Morrisette, Barrett Jackman. Home of former NHLer Adam Deadmarsh.
CF: A lot of guys have developed in Trail (BC) and that area. With Beaver Valley, Paul Matteucci and Terry Jones are good coaches and it’s a good management team with Hank. They really helped me to develop with a lot of their instruction.
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