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PREVIEW: Giants vs. T-Birds (Pre-Season Game #1)

The 2017 preseason has arrived for the Vancouver Giants. This morning at 11:30 AM the G-Men will take the ice for the first of six exhibition games, three of which are on the road and three of which will be played at home. Today, they’ll tangle with the defending Ed Chynoweth champs, the Seattle Thunderbirds in a neutral-site game taking place in Everett, WA.

SEATTLE THUNDERBIRDS

OVERVIEW:

Head Coach: Matt O’Dette

2016-17 Regular Season Record: 46-20-4-2 (2nd in US Division)

2017 Playoffs: 16-4 – Won the league championship

2016-17 Leading Scorers: Ryan Gropp (66 GP – 35G – 49A – 84 PTS), Mathew Barzal (41 GP – 10 G – 69 A – 79 PTS), Ethan Bear (67 GP – 28 G – 42 A – 70 PTS)

WHO’S UP FRONT:

Nolan Volcan: The 1998-born forward returns as the highest scoring forward from last year’s championship season. Last season in 64 games he tallied 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points. In 20 playoff games, he added five goals and two assists. Given the departures of Mathew Barzal, Ryan Gropp and Keegan Kolesar, it looks like Volcan will be one of the players looked upon to provide steady offense for the T-Birds.

Sami Moilanen: The 1999-born native of Sipoo Finland struck for 21 goals and 22 assists for 43 points in 70 games last season for the T-Birds. His seven goals and nine assists in 20 playoff games helped provide Seattle with some solid depth in the post-season, and he, like Volcan above will be looked upon to be one of the offensive ‘go-too guys’ for Seattle in 2017-18.

WHO’S ON D:

Turner Ottenbreit: The 20-year-old product of Yorkton, SK can do a little bit of everything. Last season he had seven goals, 25 assists and chipped in with a modest 92 penalty minutes for Seattle. He logged a ton of major minutes in all situations for Seattle and might be one of the most feared physical defenders in the WHL.

Jarret Tyszka: Selected in the fifth round of the 2017 NHL Draft by the Montreal Canadiens, the pride of Langley, B.C. is no doubt going to be asked to play a huge role this season for Seattle. He’s coming off a solid season where he snagged six goals and 19 assists for 25 points in just 54 games, but he defends well, skates well and is certainly a player that will be looking to thrive in a situation where there is plenty of ice-time seemingly up for grabs on the back-end.

WHO’S IN GOAL:

Carl Stankowski: When 20-year-old Rylan Toth went down with an injury late in 2016-17 season, the now 17-year-old draft eligible Stankowski seized the opportunity and helped back-stop the Thunderbirds to a league championship. Despite only appearing in seven regular season games, Stankowski appeared in all 20 of Seattle’s playoff games and finished 16-2-2 in the playoffs with a 2.50 goals-against-average and a .911 save percentage. This season he’ll look to continue to ride that wave.

X-FACTOR:

New Head Coach: Matt O’Dette is certainly familiar to the Seattle Thunderbirds having served as an assistant coach under Steve Konowalchuk for the past four seasons. But now that he holds the reigns there will no doubt be a bit of a transitional period, and surely there will be an inevitable tweak or two to some systems along the way. But there’s also something to be said about continuity, and this season a younger Seattle Thunderbirds squad will surely be happier knowing that they’ve got a familiar face and voice leading the charge from behind the bench in 2017-18.

 

VANCOUVER GIANTS

OVERVIEW:

Head Coach: Jason McKee

2016-17 Regular Season Record: 20-46-3-3

2016-17 Leading Scorers: Ty Ronning (68 GP – 25 G – 28 A – 53 PTS), James Malm (69 GP – 20 G – 31 A – 51 PTS), Tyler Benson (33 GP – 11 G – 31 A – 42 PTS)

WHO’S UP FRONT:

Ty Ronning: Fresh off his second consecutive season of 25-plus goals, Ty Ronning is ready to make his final WHL season count. The New York Rangers prospect has a lot to feel confident about having dressed in 12 games in the AHL at the end of last season with the Hartford Wolfpack. Ronning didn’t just dress – He made an impact scoring twice and adding three assists for five points in that span. Ronning is driven to earn himself an NHL contract, and from the very first practice of Training Camp onwards he’s been dialled in.

Brad Morrison: Fellow 20-year-old Brad Morrison is also not lacking motivation heading into his final WHL campaign. Acquired by the Prince George Cougars in early June, Morrison joins a team that seems perfectly aligned for his type of skill-set. His skill is undeniable and he’s got the ability to take over games offensively. A healthy and productive season from Morrison could mean trouble for opposing teams in the WHL in 2017-18.

WHO’S ON D:

Darian Skeoch: The 20-year-old is fired up and ready to go. His season ended prematurely in 2016-17 due to an injury and he devoted his entire offseason to making sure that he was ready to make an impact and be a leader for the Giants during his final WHL campaign. He played a strong two-way style of game during Training Camp, and lacks no shortage of toughness or passion. He might be one of the best kept secrets among WHL defenders, and he’s also going to be extremely motivated to earn himself a pro contract this season. The Giants are thrilled to have a player of Skeoch’s character and calibre healthy and ready to go.

Bowen Byram: The third overall selection from the 2016 WHL Bantam Draft is ready for prime time. He appeared in 11 games with the G-Men as an under-ager a season ago, and he already plays the game with a poise and a maturity well beyond his years. The important thing for Byram will be to stay within himself and stay composed over the rigors of a lengthy WHL season. That said, the Giants have a bonafide difference-maker on their back-end with Byram, and it’ll just be a matter of him gaining some confidence and some experience at the elite Western Hockey League level.

WHO’S IN GOAL:

Ryan Kubic: There is no shortage of intrigue when it comes to goaltending and the Vancouver Giants. With all five signed goaltenders remaining with the team, it’ll be a most interesting and entertaining battle among goaltenders to secure a roster spot in 2017-18. That said, veteran Ryan Kubic appeared in 56 games last season for the Giants and in many of those games was a major factor. Now at age 19, Kubic must be feeling good about the team in front of him, but also about the internal competition that he’ll be facing in goal. Competition breeds success, and Kubic will no doubt use his experience to his advantage over the course of this preseason to ensure that he’s ready to go come opening night.

X-FACTOR:

That Winning Feeling: Games in the preseason mean ZERO in the big picture as far as the standings are concerned, but that doesn’t mean that picking up some early victories in the preseason aren’t important. Confidence-wise it’ll be very important for the G-Men to hit the ground running positively this weekend. Of course, the overall ‘process’ is more important than the result during the pre-season but if the Giants use their speed, skill and physicality to their advantage today they are going to put themselves in great shape mentally. It will be key for the Giants to stay disciplined, and to maintain a quiet type of confidence. Wins in the preseason may mean nothing in the standings, but it’s amazing what a few victories can do for one’s psyche when it comes to preparing for the regular season and all that lies ahead.

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