Vancouver Giants open WHL season this weekend with reduced force, regional programming

The Giants are still awaiting the completion of their two European players and the return of injured winger Cole Shepard.

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Here are five things to ponder as the Vancouver Giants prepare for their first WHL game of the season on Saturday in Victoria and their first home game on October 8 against Prince George:


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To kick off the season, the Giants and the other four teams in WHL Division BC can fill their buildings to 50% capacity. For Vancouver, that means 2,638 fans at Langley Events Center, as their maximum roster is 5,276.

The hope is that the COVID-19 case count will decline in the province, restrictions will ease, and crowds may increase as the season progresses.

The Giants benefit from the fact that their staff organized a vaccine clinic at the LEC, so they got a head start on things like in-and-out strategies and extended hygiene protocols.

“We have a very good plan,” said Dale Saip, the Giants’ senior vice president.

The Giants, Victoria Royals, Prince George Cougars, Kamloops Blazers and Kelowna Rockets played a truncated schedule against each other in front of empty stadiums in Kelowna and Kamloops in the center of Division BC last spring. The last crowd for a Giants game in the LEC came during a 3-0 win over Victoria on February 28, 2020.


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“Playing in buildings with less capacity will create an atmosphere that we certainly missed last year,” said Giants coach Michael Dyck. “Will it be strange the first few times? I think it will be exciting. We all have the opportunity to watch sports on television, whether it be something like Monday Night Football or the NHL preseason. That’s a big part of the games – the atmosphere that the crowds create. “

In the 2019-20 regular season, the average attendance announced by the Giants was 3,920. In his 2019 playoff run to the championship series against the Prince Albert Raiders, that LEC-announced average jumped to 4,541.


The Giants played 22 games last spring. This time around, the teams have returned to the 68-game tables, but there is no link between the Western and Eastern conferences. That means the Giants play strictly against BC and US Division teams in the regular season.


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The Giants will play their standard four games against Portland Winterhawks, Tri-City Americans, Everett Silvertips, Seattle Thunderbirds and Spokane Chiefs. They will jump to 12 games against all four BC teams to make up for lost games against Eastern Conference opponents.

The 2019-20 regular season, which closed with six games left in Vancouver, had the Giants scheduled to play their BC brothers 36 times: 10 against Victoria, nine against Prince George and Kamloops, and eight against Kelowna.

The lack of a crossover between the conferences means that BC fans won’t have a chance this regular season to see players like Regina Pats center Connor Bedard, the famous 16-year-old from North Vancouver already getting some attention. as one of the first selections. for the 2023 NHL Draft.


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“We would love to play Bedard. We’d love to take on the Edmonton Oil Kings, and we know how good the Winnipeg Ice could be. I know I would love to play the Lethbridge Hurricanes again, “said Dyck, who is from Lethbridge,” but in the end, we just want to play. “


A postseason setup for the WHL will be tied to COVID case counts, like so many other things in these times of COVID. The CHL announced last Wednesday that the Saint John Sea Dogs of QMJHL had received the hosting rights for the 2022 Memorial.Cup, and the national championship tournament is scheduled to start there on June 3.

Once again, it will be a four-team tournament, in which the Sea Dogs will be joined by the playoff champions of WHL, QMJHL and OHL.

The tournament has been canceled for the past two years due to COVID.


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Vancouver already has two Europeans in camp with Slovak defender Marko Stacha and Swedish goalkeeper Jesper Vikman, who was reassigned to the Giants by the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday.

The Giants also have the Canadian youth rights to 2021 Boston Bruins first-round player Fabian Lysell. The Swedish winger is currently with the Bruins, but Boston general manager Don Sweeney said earlier this month that Lysell would be reassigned to the Giants for this season.

WHL teams can only keep two Europeans during the season. Assuming Boston goes ahead and sends Lysell to the Giants, Vancouver’s top brass would have two weeks to decide who they’ll stick with. Stacha and Lysell are eligible for the exchange. Vikman is not, and Vancouver would have to release him to cut ties with him.


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Winger Cole Shepard joined the Giants’ 12 games in the 2019-20 season after recovering from hip surgery. He watched the first six minutes regularly, showed flashes of elite speed and finished with 11 goals in 50 games. He underwent hip surgery again last spring and missed the entire season.

Shepard is not skating with the Giants, but Dyck said Tuesday that he is “rehabbing well.”

“We are optimistic, if rehab continues to go well, we could see it in November,” Dyck said. “We are looking forward to seeing him healthy again.”

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Twitter: @SteveEwen



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