Giants Jump-Start With Team Chemistry

By Dave Donnelly

Giants Jump-Start With Team Chemistry

The Vancouver Giants played their inaugural games this past Friday and Saturday night at the Pacific Coliseum. As the WHL’s newest franchise, the Giants certainly left us all recognizing the need for some improvement. That said, the way the Giants rallied together, played as a team and came immediately to the defence of one other was nothing short of inspirational.

In their first match against the Kamloops Blazers on Friday, a game they resoundingly lost 5-2, the third period fell into the age-old category of “I went to the fights and a hockey game broke out”. From the get-go, the Giants appeared tentative. They were slow to move the puck up-ice through the neutral zone, reluctant to play the man and generally looked more like a team that was spent than one making its WHL debut. Remember, they played before a sold-out, standing-room only crowd of 7740 hometown fans.

These things happen. That’s OK. The emotions had been running high with anticipation for weeks, and all the hoop-la before the game clearly took its toll. The players all emotionally jacked were at the rink at 3:00 p.m. game-day. Come the 7:30 p.m. opening face-off, they simply came out flat. But to most everyone’s delight, the Giants did not leave quietly.

Time and time again, scraps broke out between unlikely combatants with the Giants routinely on the ‘short’ end of things. All things except a suprising team commitment to one another. A commitment one would not expect to see from a bunch of guys freshly assembled. By the final buzzer, the internal chemistry was clearly there, front and centre. Despite the score, it offered hope.

Fast forward 21 hours. New day, new opponents. This time they challenged the Seattle Thunderbirds, last season’s second round losers in the WHL Western Championship. From the opening face-off, the real Giants appeared, emerging from that hope left the night earlier. They were clearly an inspired squad for round two.

At times there were flashes of brilliance. This year’s 1st overall pick in the import draft, Marion Havel, set Giants history by netting three goals in the second period. There was a superb clutch-save made by the former Pats netminder, Don Choukalos, when his team was still only up 2-1, keeping the Giants ahead. We also saw some gritty play by #16 Jeff Coulter, highlighted by a bone-crunching hit he delivered behind his net in the later in the third. As well, there was evidence of much better things to come from youngster TJ Mulock (1985) who skated hard and factored in on the scoring. But make no mistake, the individual accomplishments were not the real story.

The real story was the dedication throughout the entire line-up each player showed to one other. No one walked alone. At any sign of a Thunderbird taking advantage of a Giant, there was an immediate, unsolicited reinforcement by a teammate more than willing to hold a Seattle offender accountable. (Obviously with the Giants up 9-3 well after the 10-minute mark of the third, the Thunderbirds were focused on more than just getting back into the game.)

Accountability was never more evident than late in the final period, when soon-to-be crowd favourite Giants #11, Robin Big Snake (6’1″, 200 lbs) chased down defenceman Matthew Spiller (6’4″, 200 lbs, 31st overall in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft by Phoenix) and sought some revenge. In ‘Brashear fashion’, Big Snake rubbed off his hands after going toe-to-toe with his sizeable foe and coming out on top.

Not to advocate fighting, per se — despite this writer always appreciating a good tilt — but all acts must be viewed within the context of circumstance. Considering the limited time the Giants have been together, their unquestioned dedication to play as a team was, quite simply, impressive. Impressive enough to send a buzz through the hometown fans. Outside the arena after the game, many had taken to hooting and hollering, honking horns and carrying on into the streets.

With the final score ending in favour of the Giants 9-5, outshooting the visiting Thunderbirds 39-33, there were reasons plenty for excitement. Rooted deep within that excitement, however, there was proof of a special chemistry brewing. To give credit where credit is due, special kudos to GM Scott Bonner and Head Coach Milan Dragicevic for assembling so quickly a group of ‘team’ players. Although still early days for the Giants, the team is certainly headed in the right direction.