Giant Growing Pains

By Dave Donnelly

Giant Growing Pains

Like most newborns, the Vancouver Giants are also susceptible to growing pains. These pains were most evident over the last three-game homestand, winding up Saturday, October 13th, in what will become a divisional rivalry with the Portland Winter Hawks. The Giants, hoping to push their record over the .500 mark and perhaps thinking they could take advantage of the Winter Hawks who have been struggling on the road, never did seem to get organized. From obvious communication problems on the bench, to teammates running into each other on the ice, the Giants never came close to finding the disciplined, hard-working and physical groove they displayed just one night earlier in the first period against the offensive Lethbridge Hurricanes.

Being a young team, this erratic display of hockey is not unusual. Coach Dragicevic was saying all the right things to the players between periods and after the game, emphasizing the need to play a rugged, grinding style of hockey, and to shy not from the body. Yet it seemed to land on deaf ears against the Winter Hawks. There really is no explanation for it other than the proverbial ‘growing pains’ of a young team coming together.

Players at both ends of the ice were turning away from what appeared to be sure checks, and the defence were often beat on the outside along the half-boards due to ill-timed turns to play the man. In short, they were getting caught flat-footed. They looked surprisingly tired — something a fan would not expect this early in the season. Still there is a sense that they were working hard — perhaps just not smart.

Yet the night before against the highly touted Lethbridge squad, the Giants came out and played like gangbusters. Right from the get-go, with Captain Marach shattering the glass behind the Hurricanes net at the 1:11 mark of the opening period to the closing half of the third period where goalie Don Choukalos made a couple fast and furious short-side save to keep the lead, the Giants played with intensity and determination. In fact, for my money, the first period was the best one on home ice thus far into this young season. Outshooting the Hurricane 14-4, a highly touted offensive machine, and leaving the period with a lead while just missing on three other golden opportunities, the Giants were firing on all cylinders.

In short, one never knows which Giants team may show up on home ice — the one which is bent on pressuring the puck all night or the other, a team that seems to be shying away from getting physically involved, almost content to allow their opponents the freedom to move the puck along the perimeter with impunity. Fortunately the local fans have been seeing significantly more of the former, and that is a real positive for this expansion club. So despite this not too unfamiliar rollercoaster of play, clearly the team is showing up with the intent to compete against any team they face. For the local fans, they really cannot expect anything more than a solid effort and, for the most part, that is exactly what they are getting.

IN THE CORNER: After being overlooked in the previous home-game star selection against the Medicine Hat Tigers, goaltender Donald Choukalos turned aside 28 shots from the Hurricanes en route to becoming the game’s first star. Attendance was 6317.