Vancouver Giants general manager Barclay Parneta remains hopeful that starting goalie Jesper Vikman and top-six winger Cole Shepard will be ready to play when the team opens the WHL playoffs Friday on the road against the Everett Silvertips.
Vikman (lower-body injury), who hasn’t hit the ice in a game for Vancouver since March 4, and Shepard (lower-body injury), who last suited up for the Giants on March 16, were among a small group of participants in an optional practice Monday morning at their Ladner Leisure Center home base.
“We don’t have a ‘yes’ right now. We don’t have a ‘no’ right now,” Parneta said of whether the pair will play for the playoffs. “I think we’ll know Wednesday or maybe Thursday. The fact they’re out there doing this today is a positive sign. It’s a glass half-full right now.
“Could we see them in the playoffs? Possibly. Could we not see them in the playoffs? Possibly.
“It will come down to our doctor and Burnie (Giants athletic trainer Mike Burnstein). If they can play, they will. If they can’t, they won’t. The decision won’t be made because we have a playoff game.”
Game 1, best-of-seven
Vancouver Giants vs. Everett Silvertips
7:05 pm, Angel of the Winds Arena. Radio: Sportsnet 650
The Giants (24-39-5-0), who grabbed the eighth and final playoff spot on the final night of the regular season on Saturday, finished 47 points behind the first-place Silvertips (45-13-5-5) and are massive underdogs in the best-of-seven opening round series.
You would think that getting both Vikman and Shepard back, or even one of the pair, would be an emotional lift for their group.
Vikman, a Swede who was a 2020 fifth-round draft pick of the Vegas Golden Knights, was 17-15-2-0, with a 3.05 goals against average and a .903 save percentage in this his first year with Vancouver.
Parneta talked about the 6-foot-3, 176-pounder being the team’s most valuable player before his injury. The award wound up going to team captain Zack Ostapchuk, a center who sparkled down the stretch for Vancouver.
Parneta hasn’t said exactly what is ailing Vikman. The goalie, who turned 20 in March, appeared to overextend trying to make a save in that March 4 game against the Kamloops Blazers and left the ice at 17:55 of the first period favoring his groin or hamstring.
Parneta hasn’t said what’s bothering Shepard either, other than that it’s not a hip issue. Hip surgery kept Shepard, a West Vancouver native who turned 20 in February, from playing in the BC Division hub last spring, and gave him a late start to the current campaign.
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound Shepard, who’s in his second season with Vancouver, had seven goals and 20 points in 28 games with the Giants. He’s one of the quicker of the club’s forwards.
Vancouver lost 11 of their final 12 games (1-10-1-0) to finish the regular season. Their 5-2 setback on the road to the Blazers on Saturday, coupled with the Spokane Chiefs’ 4-2 win over the Victoria Royals and the Prince Cougars 3-1 loss to the Kelowna Rockets created a three-way tie for sixth spot in the Western Conference.
The top eight teams make the playoffs. The Royals (23-39-5-1) finished in ninth, one point behind the final trio.
The WHL broke the three-way deadlock between Vancouver, Prince George (24-39-4-1) and Spokane (24-39-4-1) based on goal differential, and the Cougars (minus-63) got sixth ahead of the Giants (minus-69) and the Chiefs (minus-101). The seventh spot came down to head-to-head competition between Vancouver and Spokane, and the Chiefs took that with a 3-1-0-0 mark in the teams’ season series.
Game 2 of the series is Saturday in Everett, Wash. The series summarizes the following Wednesday at the Langley Events Centre.