Sports

Slow start a big hurdle to overcome

Vancouver Giants forward Radovan Bondra leads the team with 18 goals in 29 games. The team has a decision to make ahead of the Jan. 10 Western Hockey League trade deadline. - Gary Ahuja Langley Times file photo
Vancouver Giants forward Radovan Bondra leads the team with 18 goals in 29 games. The team has a decision to make ahead of the Jan. 10 Western Hockey League trade deadline.
— image credit: Gary Ahuja Langley Times file photo

The goal was to be at .500 at the midway point of the Western Hockey League season.

But a poor start to the season proved too much of a burden to overcome for the Vancouver Giants.

“We are not happy with where we are with our record,” said Glen Hanlon, the team’s general manager. “Our goal was to be right at that .500 mark, or a couple of games below.”

Through the season’s first 36 games, Vancouver went 14-19-1-2 for 36 points, which put them in the basement of the Western Conference and on the outside looking in for the playoff picture.

One of the biggest culprits for the team being short of their goal of hovering at or around the .500 mark? The team’s start to the season.

In the Giants’ first eight games, they won just once and failed to even get an overtime loser point in any of the other seven games.

“That has been the biggest thing, we didn’t have a good enough start,” said head coach Jason McKee.

“I thought we gave a few of those away. If we get a couple of those, we are probably in a better spot here.”

“(But) we are getting better as the season goes on. I think as a coach that is what you want to see,” he added.

The team did right the ship following that slow start out of the gate, winning nine of their next 14 games, but a 10-game slump from mid-November to mid-December, stalled any progress they had made.

Vancouver was 1-6-1-2  in that span before rebounding to win three of their next four games heading into the 36-game mark of the 72-game schedule.

So which is the real Vancouver Giants team?

The one which played at a .194 clip during those 18 games or the one which went 12-7-0-0 (.632) over the other 18 games?

Of course, numbers don’t always tell a completely accurate story as when the team was winning, nine of their games were against Eastern Conference foes with the Giants going a sparkling 8-2-0-0 against the Central and East divisions.

Unfortunately for the Giants, they play in the Western Conference and Vancouver went 2-9-0-2 against the U.S. Division and 4-9-1-0 against their B.C. Division foes in the season’s first half.

One of the biggest things Hanlon has learned that his team does not have the depth — or experience — of some of the other teams.

The Giants have nine 1999-born players and one 2000-born player on their roster. He compared that with the roster of the Prince George Cougars — one of the top teams in the WHL and in the entire Canadian Hockey League — who have 10 1997-born players and six 1998-born players.

“If you do the math, there are a lot of years difference in there,” Hanlon said. “It is not a 16 and 17-year-old league, it is an 18 and 19-year-old league.”

But Hanlon likes the direction his team is trending.

“You want to base you success on wins and losses, for sure, but you want to be honest and see if your players are showing improvement, where do they stand in their peer group,” he explained.

“(And) we feel our younger players are making some strides and that is important.”

Vancouver began the second half of the season with a 4-2 home loss on Friday night to Kamloops before rebounding to defeat Calgary 5-4 in a shootout on Monday.

It has taken an average of 66 points to make the WHL Western Conference playoffs the past four seasons and the Giants are currently on pace for 62.

“We still have lots of games left, it just puts pressure on us to play at a pace that we haven’t played at yet,” Hanlon said.

“But I am comfortable once the players get a chance to get home, get a break, most of the younger kids get a chance to improve over that period. We just have to dig down and get some wins.”

 

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