Portland (0-2-0-0, 0pts) @Vancouver (1-0-0-0, 2pts)
In their first road game of the year, the suddenly stronger Portland Winterhawks travel up to Vancouver for the 1st of their 3 games in 3 nights. Portland will have Dominic Turgeon(Detroit), Keegan Iverson(New York Rangers), Anonton Cederholm(Vancouver Canucks) , Chase De Leo(Winnipeg) and Brendan Burke(Arizona) back from NHL camps and thus will ice a much more experienced squad then was seen down in Portland for the first 2 games of the season.
The Giants also received some good news this week when Defenseman Mason Geertsen(Colorado) and Jackson Houck(Edmonton) were returned from their training camps. Vancouver hopes to have a successful first 10-20 games of the season in order to persuade the powers that be that they deserve to host the 2016 Memorial cup. They are currently a finalist with the Red Deer Rebels to host the annual championship tournament.
-Portland lost 4-1 to Seattle and 6-3 to Prince George last weekend. The Giants got 2 goals in 39 seconds in the 2nd period to beat Victoria in their home opener last Saturday.
-Vancouver had an up and down season with a very young squad, on their way to 32-29-7-4, 75 pts and a 7th seed in the WHL playoffs. Portland quickly swept the Giants, ending the Giants 4th straight season of not advancing further than the 1st round.
-The most notable absence is legendary Head Coach Don Hay, who chose to head back to Kamloops and coach the Blazers this season. From everything I read, it appears that this decision was mutual between Hay and the Giants. Taking his place is former Abbotsford Heat(AHL) Head Coach Troy Ward.
-Graduating from the Giants are: Cain Franson, Dalton Thrower and Tim Traber. Leaving for professional careers are Dominik Volek and Brett Kulak. The Giants then had 8 other overage players to choose from and chose to let forwards Trent Lofthouse, Trace Elson Rob Trzonkowski and Travis McEvoy go look for work elsewhere. They also traded backup 20 year Jared Rathjen to Medicine Hat, where he has not played yet due to a "medical abnormality." McEvoy actually ended up in Portland's lineup as they needed immediate, fresh bodies last weekend.
-The sole Vancouver Giant unavailable to play is 17 year old Right Wing Ty Ronning, who suffered a broken collarbone in the preseason and will miss a long stretch here to start the season. It is unknown whether the Giants will have 17 year old St. Louis Park, Minnesota native Alec Baer in the lineup tonight due to him playing in the All American Prospects Game in Buffalo last night, though he will be in Vancouver.
-Portland is still missing top returning WHL scorers Nic Petan and Oliver Bjorkstrand at NHL training camps. Paul Bittner also played in AAPG last night too and with Portland playing 3 in 3 this weekend, I would think they will rest him tonight. Blake Heinrich is still out with a concussion, while Josh Hanson should be returning at some point soon from his broken knuckles (he has been skating in practice).
Players to Watch
-#11 (LW) Jakob Stukel: 17 year old , 2nd round 2012 WHL Bantam Draft pick missed the entire season last year with a knee injury suffered during a pickup football game. He didn't miss a beat in his first game this season, notching an assist ans setting up many other great opportunities while playing in the top line with returning leading scorer Carter Popoff(64pts) and 20 year old Joel Hamilton. It is likely that Houck will take this spot tonight, but with how impressive the young Stukel looked vs. Victoria, I would expect that Troy Ward finds a way to get him ice time.
-#17 (LW) Tyler Benson: 16 year old, former top overall Bantam Pick was as advertised in his first game last Saturday. There were few Giants in the lineup that he did not set up for at least one opportunity. He looks first to pass and has some incredible ice vision. He played on their second line with Baer and Thomas Foster and they were the most dangerous line all night.
-#22 (D) Dmitry Osipov:18 year old, former 1st overall CHL import draft pick (also top overall KHL pick), was a large disappointment for the G-men last season. He looked lost most of the time and during their first round loss to Portland looked like he was anticipating everything much slower then whatever line he was matched against. This season, there are signs that he has improved; he played power play quarterback and was counted on as a top penalty killer. Despite this though, he has a long way to go before living up to expectations.
-#13 (C/RW) Keegan Iverson: The 18 year old was a force in limited preseason action this year, but also was suspended for a head shot vs. Spokane. He will be relied upon to carry the play in the absence of some of the Hawk's playmakers tonight and will need to stay on the edge and not put his team in odd man situations.
-#9 (C) Chase De Leo: 19 year old De Leo is the first leading returning scorer(81 pts) to dress up in the regular season for Portland this season. Having him back in the lineup and not being forced to play 16 year old McKenzie in a top line Center position, will immediately improve the Hawk's outlook tonight. I have long held that De Leo's defensive zone play is one of the most underrated things about his game and the Hawks were victimized consistently in areas that the Center is responsible for the last 2 games.
-#2 (D) Anton Cederholm- Implementing the 19 year D-man into the back end is an immediate, huge improvement. Cederholm relied a lot upon reigning CHL D-man of the year Derrick Pouliot last season and this is about how much whomever plays with him this year will rely upon him. Look for him to carry the puck into the zone and carry the play more this season, as he will be deferred to a lot to force the offense.
-This is a much different Giants team this season, in personnel, as well as philosophy. Ward wants his team to play a puck possession and up tempo game, similar to that of Portland's. This is completely different then the hard nosed style that Don Hay always had his team play. There is enough young talent (Benson, Stukel, Foster, RW Vladimir Bobylev and D-man Ryely McKinstry) for this to be a smart move down the road. However, a lot of the team's DNA is still rooted in Hay's system and it would be smart for Ward to ease this new system in.
-Without Bjorkstrand and Petan and with many questions on the back end, the Hawks still have a long way to go, but with 5 of their most talented and experienced players back, the outcome cannot help but be better than last weekend.
Elsewhere in the WHL:
-Saskatoon @Brandon: The Wheaties won their first 2 games of the season by a combined 10-3 score and will now get John Quennville and Jayce Hawryluk back form NHL camps.
-Medicine Hat @Calgary: The Tigers got 20 year old Goalie Marek Langhammer back from Arizona Coyotes camp. The Tigers immediately got better with this move and will rely upon him heavilyt this season.
-Edmonton @Swift Current: Reigning WHL Player of the Week Jay Merkley will look to add to his 5 goal total.
-Regina @Moose Jaw: Regina traded for 20 year old import Pavel Padakin and he should make his debut for the Pats tonight.
-Kelowna @Prince George: There was a line around the block this morning for the Cougar's home opener, which is a far cry from the 1,500-2,000 they were drawing consistently last season.
-Kamloops @Victoria: Brandon Magee was returned from Calgary Flames camp and according to some he will start serving his 11 game suspension with this game.
-Seattle @Tri City: Both teams had very up and down games last weekend with 3 goal and 7 goal wins and goal(shut out) and 2 goal losses.