Vancouver Giants Go for Memorial Cup Glory

Originally published in Prospects Hockey in 2007

By Lucas Aykroyd

Hockey fans in Vancouver are hungry for a championship. After all, the last Stanley Cup victory came in 1915 with the Vancouver Millionaires. The Canucks got close in 1982 and 1994, but the club’s only titles were in its pre-NHL, minor-league incarnation.

So some Vancouver Giants fans would undoubtedly rather see the host team win the 2007 MasterCard Memorial Cup than, say, eat for free at team owner Ron Toigo’s White Spot restaurants for a year themselves.

Toigo doesn’t mince words when asked what he enjoyed most about hosting the 2006 World Juniors: “Us winning. When Canada won on the last day, nobody recalled anything that might have gone wrong, and winning had a lot to do with that.”

Icing a powerful team and repeating as WHL champs has similarly been the top priority in 2006-07 for the Giants, who reached the 2006 Memorial Cup but fell short in the end.

It starts with coach Don Hay, who won three Memorial Cups in the 1990’s with Kamloops. “Last year’s success in the playoffs was extremely beneficial to our organization,” said Hay. “It gave us confidence. Coming back this year, our group has pushed hard to keep the bar high. The challenge for us is to make sure we go through the front door on our way to the Memorial Cup.”

Unlike previous teams, Hay’s current crew doesn’t feature renowned talents like Gilbert Brule or Andrej Meszaros. But Hay is more concerned about maintaining a relentless work ethic. Snipers like Tim Kraus and Michal Repik have earned a point per game much of the season, but secondary scoring from less anticipated sources has been invaluable.

Milan Lucic is enjoying a career season and proving he’s more than a physical force. The 6-3, 220-pound winger’s prowess has earned Hay’s appreciation: “Milan has exploded this year with confidence. He was drafted in the second round by the Boston Bruins last year, and he’s really improved each year because of his work ethic.”

Although Cody Franson and Brendan Mikkelson may be better-known among Vancouver defensemen, 17-year-old Jonathan Blum adds another important dimension.

“Jonathan was a strong 16-year-old player for us last year,” said Hay. “Now he’s gotten stronger. He gained confidence from what he learned playing alongside Mark Fistric. He moves the puck well and makes good decisions.”

Trade deadline acquisitions like center Wacey Rabbit and defenseman A.J. Thelen have further bolstered Vancouver’s chances with their experience.

The biggest question mark may be in goal. Tyson Sexsmith has excelled this season as the starter, but how will he handle the Memorial Cup pressure as an 18-year-old?

The team will just have to work like crazy in front of Sexsmith. “Everyone knows how hard the Giants work and how we come out to compete every night,” said Kenndal McArdle, a 20-year-old Vancouver native who lost to the Giants last year as a member of the Moose Jaw Warriors in the WHL finals.

It’s all about consistency here. Ask Cody Franson for a season highlight, and he’ll point to the 10-game winning streak that opened Vancouver’s 2006-07 campaign. Franson said the first guy he’d phone if Vancouver wins the Cup would be close friend Shea Weber, the tenacious former Kelowna Rockets blueliner who earned a CHL title in 2004.

Now it’s up to the Giants to become the first team to taste the sweetness of Memorial Cup success on home ice since the ’05 London Knights. Digg it Furl iFeedReaders Netscape RawSugar reddit StumbleUpon Yahoo MyWeb YardBarker

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