by Steve EwenSpecial to the Langley Advance
Next game: Tonight (Friday, Nov. 18) Giants at Kelowna Rockets, 7 p.m. in Kelowna
Slick and sly are two words that describe James Malm’s game. Alec Baer has a different one.
“We like to call him slimy,” Baer, a veteran Vancouver Giants winger, said of his current centre. “(Malm) doesn’t get hit much. He slips around out there. And he always ends up with the puck when he’s going through someone.“
Consider that high praise from Baer, a guy who tried to score between his own legs in Vancouver’s 5-3 win over the Prince Albert Raiders.
It was one of the more awe-inspiring near goals of the Giants’ opening few games at their new Langley Events Centre digs, along with a Malm bid from earlier in the campaign when an alert netminder foiled him after he double-volleyed a puck out of the air for a scoring attempt.
“The guys are bigger and you have to move pucks faster and have your head up more.” – James Malm They are the two mostly likely culpritson the Giants to score a cheeky, sneaky marker.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW
Malm had an obstacle course in the backyard of his family’s Langley home growing up to work on his stickhandling skills. It shows.
“My dad made it for me. It was a bunch of sticks, chopped up, with hockey pucks attached to the end of them,” Malm, 17, shrugged.
The second-year Giant has found his game of late since moving between Baer and captain Tyler Benson. He has six goals and six assists through 19 games, but three goals and five assists have come in the past five games with his current linemates.
“I’m way more confident. I’m getting more used to the league,” said Malm, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound left-handed shot. “It’s way different (than midget). The guys are bigger and you have to move pucks faster and have your head up more.“
Baer added: “I feel like the past couple of weeks his confidence level has risen. I don’t know if it’s scoring some goals or getting used to the speed or whatever, but he definitely feels a lot more comfortable out there.“
A second-round pick (44th overall) by the Giants in the 2014 WHL bantam draft, Malm made the team out of training camp last season as a 16-year-old but had no goals and two assists through 25 starts. He was then re-assigned to the B.C. Major Midget league and the Valley West Hawks, who are based out of the LEC.
Malm played 18 of the 40 regular season games with the Hawks, producing 14 goals and 29 assists. Valley West won the playoff crown and Malm topped them and the league in scoring in the post-season, with nine goals and 10 assists in seven games.
Malm is used to scoring. He had 70 goals and 74 assists in 56 games with the Burnaby Winter Club in his bantam draft year, then had 20 goals and 46 assists in 31 games with Valley West in 2014-15.
“With two points in 25 games, the confidence wasn’t up to par,” Malm said of last season with the Giants. “Going back to midget really helped the confidence.“
By Sunday night, we should have our latest, most accurate reading on what the Vancouver Giants are all about.
The Regina Pats, seemingly everybody’s early favourite to win the Memorial Cup and who are on pace to become the first Western Hockey League team to score 400 goals in a season since 1990-91, make a Sunday afternoon visit to Langley Events Centre (4 p.m., TSN 1410 AM) to face the Giants.
The Pats head into a Saturday trip to Vancouver Island to play the Victoria Royals as the last team in Canada without a regulation time defeat, sporting a shiny 15-0-3-0 record.
Heading into Thursday’s action around the league, the Pats held the top five spots in the WHL in plus-minus and nine of the first 15 in that category. They had more short-handed goals (12) than three teams – including the Giants – had power-play goals. They were the lone club among the WHL’s 22 that had not been outshot by an opponent.
“You want to go a game at a time.
We aren’t going to focus on Sunday until we’re done Friday,” said Giants’ defenceman Darian Skeoch, pointing to Vancouver kicking off the weekend festivities with a visit to the Kelowna Rockets, “but Sunday is a big one, too, for sure.
“They’ve been playing well. We expect them to come out hard. We will have to give one of our best efforts of the year to beat them.“
It’s early. Awfully early. But is it too early to mention the WHL record for most points in a season is 125? That was set by the 1978-79 Brandon
Wheat Kings, who rode the scoring skills of Brian Propp, Ray Allison and Laurie Boschman to a 58-5-9 record.
The game continues to speed up and become more offensive, but it’s not the free-for-all it was in 1990-91 when the Spokane Chiefs (435) and the Tri-City Americans (404) were piling up goals in the 72-game regular season at rates we haven’t seen since. Brandon (316) led the WHL in goals last season, and five clubs didn’t hit 200, including the Giants (199).
You’d think that any team which knocks off Regina in the early part of this season would get a confidence jolt. Vancouver should have some solid Intel on them, led by Skeoch, who was part of a Lethbridge Hurricanes team that lost to Regina in five game in the playoffs last spring.
As well, Skeoch went to the Anaheim Ducks training camp this season as a free-agent invitee and saw plenty there of Regina star forward Sam Steel, who was a first-round pick of the Ducks, 30th overall, in June’s NHL Entry Draft.
Steel, 18, was leading the WHL in scoring as of Thursday morning, thanks to his 37 points, including 17 goals. Another member of the Giants who is well versed on Steel is left-winger Tyler Benson, the team captain. Steel and Benson grew up in the Edmonton area and have been both rivals and teammates coming through the ranks. They first lined up on the same squad as 10-year-olds, at the prestigious Brick Invitational tournament in Edmonton.
Benson, coming off setting an Alberta bantam league scoring record with the SSAC Southgate Lions, was the first selection of the 2013 WHL bantam draft, while Steel, who was a Benson league rival with the Sherwood Park Flyers, went second overall to Regina. Last June, the Edmonton Oilers made Benson the second pick of the second round, two selections after Anaheim took Steel.
“He’s super skilled and a very smart player. He’s going to be creating chances every time he’s on the ice,” Benson said.