Liam Liston Looks to Prove his Potential with the Giants
VANCOUVER, BC – Entering his 19 year-old season and first with the Vancouver Giants, Liam Liston still remembers the good ole’ days in his hometown of St. Albert, Alberta, “a sports-oriented town revolving around hockey, lacrosse and baseball,” according to Liam. Growing up a well-rounded athlete, this youngster couldn’t keep himself off the ponds come winter time. It’s a scene that sounds like it came straight out of a Disney movie, but Liam actually lived it. “I had an outdoor rink right across from my house,” he reminisced. “Every winter it gets flooded and I’d skate across the road in my skates with my dad. There’s a light out there and my mom could yell at me from the deck across the street when dinner was ready.”
Times were good for young Liam; he and several of his friends would alternate between hockey in the winter and baseball in the summer. He was living a kid’s fantasy and having fun 365 days a year. “There was no pressure. I could go out there any day of the week with my buddies and we could pretend we’re playing in the NHL. We didn’t have to worry about anyone telling us what we’re doing wrong or any coaches directing us. We could just go out there and play.” Liam admits that growing up in St. Albert was a very important part of his childhood. “I think that’s something that gets lost on a lot of kids very early nowadays, is that they’re not allowed to just go out there and play. I think the absence of direction for us out there is what pushed us to play hockey”. He went on to say that although his dad was always there to drive him to the 6am practices, it was something that was never forced, and that is what bred a love for the game, more than feeling forced to play it.
As far as becoming a goaltender, Liston isn’t quite sure what it was that drew him to the position. What he does remember is having to rotate in net with his friends and playing terrible when it was his turn. “My dad breathed a sigh of relief thinking that was the end of it. Then I told him I wanted to play again tomorrow, and I think he might have cried” Liam said with a laugh. His dad was a center in his day and was en route to playing hockey at Yale University when he blew out his knee and had to give up the dream. Now Liam didn’t specify why his dad cried. Maybe it was the ridiculously high costs of putting a goaltender through hockey, or maybe it was the intense pressure he knew his son would face in that position. But also being a pitcher in baseball, that pressure is exactly what Liston loves about being a goalie. “I like to be relied on. I want my teammates to know that I’m going to be that steady, calming influence every night and you know what you’re going to get from me.”
Surprisingly, Liam didn’t idolize goaltenders growing up. His favourite player was Paul Kariya and favourite team the Anaheim Mighty Ducks; all stemming from the Mighty Ducks movie series, which Liam still watches to this day and calls “the coolest movies ever.” But as far as favourite goalie was concerned, it was Marty Turco. And the reason is self-explanatory. “I was at an Oilers practice one day when the Dallas Stars were in town. Marty tapped on the glass, opened up the gate, came and sat with me in the stands and gave me a stick. That kind of helped feed the fire”
The mark of a successful goaltender is the same as that of a successful man. As Chumbawamba once put it, “I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down”. That pretty much defines Liam Liston’s hockey career.
Now that’s not to say that he’s been beat down from day one. As a matter of fact, there were more than a few highlights earlier in Liston’s career, memories he’ll treasure forever. 2009-10 was a particularly special season for the 16 year-old at the time. During a successful 20 games with his St. Albert Raiders Midget AAA team where he was named the Alberta Midget Hockey League’s Goaltender of the Year (with a 2.23 GAA), Liston was also a key member of Canada Pacific’s team at the World U-17 Hockey Challenge. Although his team finished fifth in the tournament, Liston posted a 2.67 GAA and an .892 SV% with one shutout in three games played. As if that wasn’t enough, he later joined the Brandon Wheat Kings as a 3rd string goaltender on their Memorial Cup run, during which they finished one win shy of winning it all. “The entire year was a whirlwind. I was up and down with Brandon all year. Our midget team was really good with lots of 3rd year guys returning that didn’t want to play junior. I was the only midget player to play for Team Pacific alongside guys like Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Ty Rattie, Mark McNeill and current Giant Nathan Burns”. Shortly after getting back to midget, Liston got hurt and was forced to miss the playoffs. So he went to Brandon to rehab and locked on with the Wheat Kings.
It’s worth noting that had it not been for those two months with Brandon, Liam might have pursued the Junior A route and could have been playing college hockey at this point. “I was probably closer to going to college than anyone you’ll ever know”, he admitted. “Around the time I was drafted into the WHL, I started talking to some pretty high-end schools and my marks were good enough that I was definitely an option for them. But Brandon’s Memorial Cup run played a huge role, as did their coach Kelly McCrimmon who ultimately persuaded me to head over there.”
Overall, everything was sunshine and roses for a 16 year-old kid who had already built up quite a resume for himself before his first season in the WHL. But no matter how good you are, or even great, everyone faces adversity. And for Liam Liston, his first significant speed bump was later that summer when he tried out and expected to play for Team Canada at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament. It was not meant to be however. Liston had a tough tryout and was sent home disappointed.
After a very short turnaround, Liam Liston started his first season in the WHL with the Brandon Wheat Kings, as now a 17 year-old in 2010-2011. And although the team lost a lot of pieces from the Memorial Cup run and struggled with what can be labeled a ‘Memorial Cup Hangover’, Liam did his best to hold down the fort while being peppered with shots on a nightly basis. Despite a 3.77 GAA and an .880 SV%, his 20 wins (20-16-0-1) were the most of any rookie goaltender in the league and included a shutout. He admitted that it was a challenge, but that he also welcomed it. “I had a lot of heat on my shoulders right from the get-go. I was kind of baptized by fire. I wasn’t afforded the luxury of having a veteran guy to back me up and fall back on when I struggled.” It got to the point where Liston simplified his goal for the rest of the year: “Win as many hockey games as I could.” And winning 20 games at the age of 17 is something Liam was proud of, especially considering he struggled with a nagging hamstring injury that dated back to his previous season in midget.
But as they say in infomercials, that’s not all! During his rookie season in the WHL, the 17 year-old Liston caught the eye of a lot of NHL scouts, and he was invited to play in the CHL Top Prospects Game. Not only did he play, Liston stopped all 18 shots he faced in helping lead Team Orr to a 7-1 victory over Team Cherry.
This promising season established Liam Liston as the 9th-ranked North American goaltender and 2nd in the WHL (next to Laurent Brossoit of last year’s WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings) heading into the 2011 NHL entry draft.
Liam Liston was so highly thought of heading into the draft that Sportsnet gave him his own weekly blog for a month leading up to the big day, and NHL.com wrote a feature article on him as well. But the way it broke down surprised everybody. Laurent Brossoit was the highest-drafted WHL goaltender that year, but that was in the 6th round. The supposed ‘big day’ for Liam came and went quietly without any NHL team calling his name. A devastating blow to the ego that shook Liam to the core. “It was frustrating,” Liam remembers. “One of my best friends since I grew up was Travis Ewanyk (currently with the Edmonton Oil Kings), and everyone in St. Albert was making a big deal that we would get drafted together. But round by round, I was watching guys with worse seasons than me and in lower leagues get drafted. It got so frustrating that I had to turn it off. It was a rough day”
Looking back now, Liston realizes that he put too much pressure on himself during his draft year to the point where it became a mental distraction. He admits that had he not done that, things might have gone differently for him. But Liam took it as a lesson learned and tried to re-focus. Here is what he wrote for his last entry doing the Sportsnet blog:
“While I would be lying to you if I said I wasn’t disappointed, I am also mindful that there are multiple routes to the National Hockey League. I appreciate all the support and advice I have received from multiple sources and I can assure you that your words have not fallen on deaf ears. As stated in one of my previous entries, my work habits and dedication to my craft have not, and will not change based solely on the results of one weekend.”
As hard as he tried to put the ‘snub’ behind him, it clearly had an effect on Liston when it came time for the following season. He had a really tough 3 games (4.77 GAA, .864 SV%) to start with Brandon, and even though 2 of them were wins, the Wheat Kings decided to move him to the Lethbridge Hurricanes, a team that wound wind up 13 games below .500 at season’s end. Liston again was forced to handle a barrage of shots on a game-by-game basis, often times left to fend for himself when a game got out of hand. As proof of his workload, Liston finished the season with a 4.22 GAA but an .881 SV%, which is actually slightly higher than the one he had during his promising rookie season in Brandon. Liam again said it was a frustrating year. “The most frustrating thing was seeing the work we were putting in as a team and not seeing anything come to fruition.” Because of all the youth on the team in Lethbridge, Liston had to take on more of a vocal, leadership role. He could tell that “it was pretty easy for the young guys to get down on themselves with the amount of games we were losing.”
After getting passed over in his draft year, then again in 2012 after that tough season in Lethbridge, it would be hard for anyone to have an optimistic outlook on their future. As a matter of fact, for Liam Liston, you couldn’t blame him for looking to his past. It was a past that saw Liam as a star pitcher in baseball for many years during his childhood before making the decision to stick with hockey. “There’s guys that I played with who are on scholarships in the states right now, and I knew had I stuck with it, that opportunity probably would have presented itself. But to be a Canadian playing major league baseball wasn’t very realistic,” Liam explained.
Then, at the end of June, Liston received the news that he had been traded to the Vancouver Giants (for a 3rd and 6th round draft pick in 2013). While most times, being traded is another kick to the ego for a player, it had the opposite effect for Liston. He was moved out of Lethbridge to make room for Ty Rimmer, who last year boasted the best GAA (2.43) and SV% (.922) in the entire WHL; certainly no reason to feel ‘bad’.
Suddenly he saw the light at the end of the tunnel; an opportunity to shake off his recent misfortunes and prove that the previous hype was well warranted. “I can’t even begin to describe what I was feeling when I heard about it,” Liam recalls. “It was an awesome day. From the ownership to Mr. Bonner to Don Hay right down to the training staff, I was taken care off and talked to more people with the team than any time in my career. It took 5 minutes for owner Ron Toigo to give me a call. It was very exciting!”
The atmosphere is another thing Liam is really looking forward to in Vancouver, a city he claims to be his favourite. “Having the support of the fans is better than the alternative, which is having nobody care. The Coliseum has always been my favourite rink to play in. It’s jumping every night, no matter if the Canucks are playing. That rink is going to have a lot of people in it and a lot of people that care, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
For the first time in his career, Liam Liston will get a great chance to blend into his environment and not be forced to be a star each game. “Everybody knows the system that Vancouver plays and how defensively sound they are. We’re looking forward to being a stingy team and I just want to be one cog in a machine that’s well-oiled and playing well every night.”
Liam Liston was so enthusiastic about his new team that he decided to go with a brand new design for his goalie mask. Put together by Jasper artist Jason Bartziokas, it turned out to be quite the piece. It features Michael Buble, Pat Quinn and Gordie Howe, all prominent members of the Giants ownership group. Talking about the process, Liam said he and Jason bounced some ideas back and forth, including the possibility of Stanley Park, a Vancouver Skyline, and anything that was Vancouver-oriented. Then Liam remembered Michael Buble’s music video for “Feeling Good”, and in the video, he’s standing in a black suit in front of an old silver car, with kind of a James Bond theme. That’s what stuck with Liam, the silver, and the black suit. So he captured a picture of the video and sent it over to Jason. That idea eventually grew to Gordie Howe and Pat Quinn. And while Liston joked that he feels a little bad about not including majority owner Ron Toigo on there, his explanation was that “Gordie Howe and Pat Quinn are so recognizable in their field that they’re a ‘Giant’ as far as hockey’s concerned, and Michael Buble is such a cool guy with a lot of swagger and charisma, and he’s a ‘Giant’ in the music industry.” Yes, Liam Liston proudly declared that he’s a big-time Michael Buble fan. He’ll fit right in.
So far, the mask seems to have inspired Liam. He had a strong pre-season for the Giants, and now looks to carry that momentum into the regular season. His goal, and the team’s goal, is simple: “we’re gonna have a good start to the season, get the ball rolling, and make sure that we’re peaking at the right time. We’re gonna go into the playoffs with a head of steam and hopefully we’re hoisting the trophy at the end.”
As far as personal motivation is concerned, Liam got a lot of it from long-time friend Adam Morrison, who he stayed with during his first brief visit to Vancouver. Morrison was of course last year’s starting goalie for the Giants. He was originally drafted by Philadelphia but never signed. However, he proved himself enough over the course of the last season to earn a contract with the Boston Bruins. Will Liston become this year’s Adam Morrison? Only time well will tell. But for now, there’s one message that Adam passed on to Liam, and that message has stuck. He said “Anything can happen. All it takes is one game in front of the right person and the next day you’re sitting with a contract.”