Underdog Giants appear to be loose, relaxed team heading into Western Hockey League first-round series against No. 1 West seed Silvertips, who finished 47 points ahead of them

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Mazden Leslie’s stick blade got caught up in the hands of Ethan Semeniuk during a line rush drill at Vancouver Giants practice Thursday in Ladner and a dozen players’ arms shot up instantly, posturing for a penalty.

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Giants coach Michael Dyck agreed, despite denials from Leslie. Dyck gave Semeniuk a penalty shot. Vancouver goalie Jesper Vikman foiled his teammate on the free chance, but only after he did a 360 turn in the crease as Semeniuk came rushing towards the net.

The Giants appear to be a loose, relaxed team heading into their Western Hockey League first-round playoff series against the Everett Silvertips. We’ll get a better idea of ​​how that works for them starting Friday, when their best-of-seven Western Conference quarterfinals open in Everett, Wash.

The Giants are massive underdogs. Eighth-placed Vancouver (24-39-5-0) finished 47 points behind the first-place Silvertips (45-13-5-5).

“We’re just going out and playing and trying to be that Cinderella story,” said Giants defenseman Connor Horning.

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This Vancouver team came into the 2021-22 season with expectations. They started with four National Hockey League draft picks in goaltender Jesper Vikman (Vegas Golden Knights 2020 fifth rounder) and forwards Justin Sourdif (Florida Panthers 2020 third rounder), Fabian Lysell (Boston Bruins 2021 first rounder) and Zack Ostapchuk (Ottawa Senators 2021 second). rounder). They added another in defenseman Alex Cotton (Detroit Red Wings 2020 fifth rounder) in a November trade.

The Giants moved into the national rankings on Dec. 8, coming in at No. 10 after a weekend that saw them beat both the Silvertips and the Kamloops Blazers. That very night they lost 7-1 in Kamloops, then went on to lose eight of their next nine games after that.

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Dyck, Sourdif, Lysell and Vikman all left the Giants for world junior championship commitments in the midst of that stretch. They returned to the club but the continued struggling, and Vancouver opted to deal away Sourdif and veteran defenseman Tanner Brown at the Jan. 17 WHL trade deadline.


Game 1, best-of-seven


Vancouver Giants vs. Everett Silvertips

7:05 pm, Angel of the Winds Arena. Radio: Sportsnet 650.

Vancouver lost of 11 its final 12 games to wrap up league play and joined the Spokane Chiefs and the Prince George Cougars in eking into the playoffs. The three clubs all finished a single point ahead of the Victoria Royals, who missed out.

The regular season wasn’t what the Giants wanted. Dyck describes it as “not even close.” So here is the Giants’ chance to change that story.

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“We’ve got a new season that starts on Friday night,” Dyck said. “There’s been a renewed sense of energy about what’s to eat.”

Horning added: “Now that we’re in the playoffs and have that little bit of stress off our shoulders, we can just press the reset button. Everyone is 0-0 now.”

Everett coach Dennis Williams balked at Vancouver’s underdog claims. He, too, uses that same reasoning that the regular season is now just a memory.

“This isn’t No. 1 against No. 8. This is the Everett Silvertips against the Vancouver Giants,’ he said.

Vikman, who hasn’t played since March 4 due to a lower body injury, was a full participant at practice on Thursday, like he was earlier in the week. Dyck wouldn’t say afterwards whether Vikman will start Friday, but it’s a good bet that, barring some sort of injury setback, he’ll get that opportunity.

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No. 1 goalie Jesper Vikman, who hasn't played since March 4 due to a lower body injury, has taken part in Giants practices this week and is a good bet to start in Friday's Game 1.
No. 1 goalie Jesper Vikman, who hasn’t played since March 4 due to a lower body injury, has taken part in Giants practices this week and is a good bet to start in Friday’s Game 1. Photo by Rob Wilton

Vikman, a Swede in his first year with Vancouver, was 17-15-2-0, with a 3.05 goals against average and a .903 save percentage for the Giants.

Wingers Cole Shepard (lower body injury) and Jacob Boucher (lower body injury) didn’t practice on Thursday.

Everett has injury questions about top defenseman Olen Zellweger (upper body injury) and forward Jackson Berezowski (undisclosed).

There’s not much league history on Vancouver’s side in this series. According to the WHL office, since the playoffs were expanded to 16 teams in 2002 there have been no No. 8 seeded team to beat a No. 1 seed in the opening round of the playoffs.

The Blazers (38-25-5-4) were the top team in the West in 2002 and were swept in the first round by the Kelowna Rockets (31-26-10-5) but the format was different then, with teams staying within their divisions for the first round. The Blazers were fourth in BC but sixth in the Western Conference, finishing ahead of the US Division’s Tri-City Americans and Seattle Thunderbirds. There were only eight points separating Kamloops and Kelowna that season.

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The last time a division champion in the West lost in the first round was 2018, when BC frontrunner Kelowna (43-22-5-2) was swept by Tri-City (38-25-8-1). Kelowna was the No. 2 seed. Tri-City was the first of two wild cards, the No. 7 seed overall. The Americans were eight points behind the Rockets in league play.

Game 2 between Everett and Vancouver is Saturday in Everett before the series resumes at the Langley Events Center for Game 3 next Wednesday. Game 4 is next Friday.

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