By Steve EwenSpecial to The TIMES
The Vancouver Giants open the 2016-17 Western Hockey League regular season on Sept. 23 at their new Langley Events Centre digs, playing host to the Everett Silvertips.
We present some lists to help preview the year:
FIVE REASONS TO BE EXCITED ABOUT THE GIANTS
1. Change is good There’s a freshness to their entire program when you partner moving to the LEC with a new coach (Jason McKee) and a new GM (Glen Hanlon).
2. They have to be healthier than they were last year The Giants lost more than 300 man games to injury in 2015-16. Forward Tyler Benson and Thomas Foster, who are likely first-line guys this season, played just 58 games combined last season out of a possible 144.
3. What will Ty Ronning have for an encore? The son of former Vancouver Canuck Cliff Ronning went from one goal in an injury-shortened 24 games in 2014-15 to 31 goals in 67 games last season.
4. There’s intriguing young talent
Owen Hardy, 17, looks like a big, bruising winger who would have fit in perfectly with those Giant powerhouse teams. James Malm, 17, is a shifty forward capable of highlight-reel plays. To boot, he’s a Langley native, so he should be at home in the LEC.
5. Goaltending appears to be in good hands Twice the Giants had netminders post seasons with 50 or more games and a save percentage of .895 or better since 2007 Memorial Cup winner Tyson Sexsmith finished his junior career in 2008-09. One of them was Adam Morrison (55, .901) in 2011-12 and the other was Ryan Kubic (50, .898) last season. Kubic, 18, returns for his sophomore campaign.
FIVE QUESTIONS THAT NEED ANSWERS
1. Can Hanlon add more grit?
He admits he wants the Giants to be harder to play against in their own zone. His first move was bringing in rugged blue-liner Darian Skeoch from the Lethbridge Hurricanes in the deal that shipped disgruntled defenceman Brennan Menell east. Hanlon is pledging to get bigger and more physical.
2. How does McKee handle coaching in the WHL? He turned Spruce Grove into an Alberta Junior juggernaut and is commonly thought to be one of the up-and-coming coaching minds. Jason McKee, 37, moves up a step in weight class this season, taking on some savvy veterans: Don Hay, 62, of the Kamloops Blazers; Don Nachbaur, 57, of the Spokane Chiefs; Kevin Constantine, 57, of the Everett Silvertips; Dave Lowry, 51, of the Victoria Royals; and Mike Johnston, 59, of the Portland Winterhawks.
3. Will Chase Lang return? The centre is a signed draft pick of the Minnesota Wild who played 11 games last season with the Wild’s AHL Iowa affiliate after the Giants’ season came to an end, but Hanlon says he refuses to fill the 20-yearold’s open spot until he’s sure that Lang won’t be back in junior. And Lang has been skating with the Giants in the pre-season, which is somewhat unusual.
4. Will hotshot import draft pick Filip Zadina come to Canada?
The winger, who turns 17 in November, is currently playing in the Czech elite league, which is rare for teenagers. Teams are allowed to keep two Euros on their roster. Vancouver has a special limited-time exemption with three; they will have two weeks from the start of the regular season to decide, according to the WHL office. If Vancouver wants to keep Zadina’s rights even if he’s playing in Europe, they will still have to move either over-age defenceman Dmitry Osipov, who turns 20 next month, or winger Radovan Bondra, 19.
5. Will the Western Conference be dramatically improved?
There’s a school of thought that the level of play in the B.C. and U.S. Divisions was only so-so last year, and several teams will take a jump forward this season.
FIVE HOME GAMES TO REMEMBER
1. Sept. 23 – Opening night, against the Everett Silvertips. The Giants will honour the late Gordie Howe, including retiring jersey No. 9.
2. Nov. 5 – The Lethbridge Hurricanes come to town, led by Menell. It’s their only trip here this season.
3. Nov. 10 – With the Prince George Cougars providing the opposition, the Giants will honour the late Pat Quinn, just days before he’s slated to be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
4. Dec. 2 – The Brandon Wheat Kings, led by possible 2017 NHL Draft first overall pick Nolan Patrick, make a visit.
5. Dec. 16 – Teddy Bear Toss Night. The Portland Winterhawks are the visitors.– Steve Ewen is with The Province • Click here to see more stories from The Province