By Steve Ewen
Special to the Langley Advance
When Dan O’Connor talks about doing radio play-by-play for Vancouver Giants games as a dream job, there’s reason to believe it’s more than just hyperbole.
O’Connor, 32, was named the new voice of the Western Hockey League club earlier this month, after spending the past six seasons calling games for the rival Prince George Cougars.
He was a game-day staff volunteer for the Giants as a youngster when they played at the Pacific Coliseum and managed then to “spend some time in the rafters practising my play-by-play.”
His family has also billeted for the team, most notably taking in centre Mitch Czibere at their Tsawwassen home during his tenure with the Giants, which included being part of the 2007 Memorial Cup national champions, a title secured at the Coliseum.
“I loved Prince George and the Cougars had been nothing but first class and amazing,” O’Connor said. “The decision to uproot from Prince George was anything but easy.
“But knowing I was coming home and knowing it was the Giants and knowing it was an opportunity that may not come again anytime soon, I realized that not taking the job was something I would probably deeply regret. I’ve followed the Giants since the very beginning.”
Czibere, 28, who helped coached the bantams in Fort Saskatchewan, Alta., last season added: “To me it feels like a true homecoming. Knowing Dan, he will bring enthusiasm to the team and, as someone who was around for the Memorial Cup years, perhaps a few stories.”
O’Connor was working at Peace 94.5, a radio station in Chetwynd, during that 2006-07 season, and he made a point of having Giants players appear as guests during the year. He also got time off to be at the Coliseum to watch them win the Memorial Cup.
He doesn’t list that as his favourite Giants memory, though. He points instead to Vancouver clinching its initial playoff series win on March 27, 2004, with a 5-4 overtime triumph at the Pacific Coliseum in the fifth and deciding game of the first round against the Kamloops Blazers.
“Just being a part of the electricity in the building that night was big for me,” he said. “I remember thinking, ‘This is what it’s all about in junior hockey.’” With the Giants, O’Connor replaces Brendan Batchelor, who leaves the club after four years to call Vancouver Canucks games on Sportsnet 650.
O’Connor hopes the change will be seamless, and on his side is the fact he has “familiarity with the Giants’organization and their history.
“I know the division, too,” added O’Connor, a product of both Kwantlen Polytechnic University and Columbia Academy. “For instance, I already know who wears what number on most of the teams.”
The Giants make two trips to Prince George this season, playing at the CN Centre Dec. 1-2 and then Jan. 9-10. O’Connor admits those visits will be “definitely strange.”
“I can’t tell you right now how it will feel going to the visiting broadcast booth there,” he said. “At the end of day, though, the Cougar organization has been nothing but professional and courteous, so I expect they’ll be the same on those nights.”
The Giants open training camp today at the Ladner Leisure Centre.
Here are three storylines to watch:
WHAT DUTIES WILL NEW ASSISTANT COACH DEAN CHYNOWETH HAVE?
The Giants hired Chynoweth, 48, three weeks ago to work as an assistant with second-year head man Jason McKee, 38. Chynoweth sat idle last season, after being fired as bench boss of the Colorado Avalanche’s AHL affiliate in San Antonio in April, 2016. He has nine years experience coaching in the WHL.
McKee made his debut in the league behind the bench last winter, coming up from Alberta Junior A. How they mesh will be key to Vancouver’s bid to get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2013-14.
Chynoweth replaces Tyler Kuntz, 38, who was let go after two seasons with the Giants.
HOW WILL THE TEAM BE WITHOUT TYLER BENSON?
Benson, Vancouver’s captain, played just 63 of a possible 144 regular-season games the past two seasons with the Giants – and he’s hurting again.
The forward had to pull out of the Canadian world junior team summer camp because of a “lower body” ailment and the Giants admit he won’t be skating at training camp, although they are hopeful he’s ready for the Sept. 22 season opener on the road against the Victoria Royals. That sounds a tad ambitious, especially considering his history.
Regardless, who gets his spot on the top line, even if it’s briefly? And who will they ask to step up into a greater leadership role? Vancouver’s home opener at the Langley Events Centre is Sept. 23 against those same Royals.
WHAT HAPPENS WITH THE GOALTENDING?
The Giants have five goalies signed, including Ryan Kubic, 19, one of the team’s better players last season.
You can’t see them re-assigning three of them to lower leagues and all of them being happy. You’d think at least one will be traded.
– Steve Ewen is a writer with The Province