After just 11 seasons in the WHL, the Vancouver Giants boast one of the most impressive Alumni lists of any junior team across the nation. This feature will examine 32 of the most popular Giants of the past decade and where they are now.
Here is the first of 6 weekly updates, as we take you on a trip down memory lane…
Evander Kane (21 years)
Approaching his 21st birthday on Thursday, Aug. 2, Kane is the highest-drafted Giant of all-time, going 4th overall to the Atlanta Thrashers (now Winnipeg Jets) in 2009. After a remarkable 96 point season in just 61 games with the Giants in 2008-09, Kane made the jump to the NHL right away, and has bloomed fairly quickly after just 3 seasons. Kane went from 26 points to 43 points to 57 points (including 30 goals) last season with the Jets. All this success might pay off big for Kane. Currently a restricted free agent, rumour has it that he and the Jets are discussing a long-term 6-year deal worth $29 million, which would make Kane the highest paid Giants graduate of all-time.
Cam Cunning (27 years)
Although he only played 30 games for the Giants and picked up 10 points (in 04-05), Cunning has had a fairly successful professional career. He spent the 05-06 season with the Red Deer Rebels, and that season included a 30 game audition with Omaha in the AHL. From 06-07, Cunning has played in the AHL ever since for the Calgary Flames farm system, most recently wrapping up a 22 point season in 52 games with the Abbotsford Heat.
Wacey Rabbit (26 years)
Another member of the “just 30 games with the Giants” club, Wacey played in Saskatoon his whole WHL career, before joining the Giants for their Memorial Cup run in 06-07. That same season, he experienced his first professional hockey action with the Providence Bruins of the AHL, who he would go on to play 2 more seasons with. After spending the 09-10 seasons with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, he took his talents to Austria in 2010-11. Last year, he was back in the AHL, spending the majority of his season with the San Antonio Rampage (plus 3 games for Cincinnati in the ECHL). Coming up in 2012-13, Wacey Rabbitt is headed to Lorenskog, Norway to continue his professional career in Europe.
Kenndal McCardle (25 years)
After spending the majority of his WHL career in Moose Jaw, Kenndal finished off his major junior career in Vancouver, collecting 22 points in 37 games for the Giants at the tail end of the 06-07 season, en route to the Memorial Cup. From 07-08 to 10-11, McArdle was with the Florida Panthers organization, playing for their ECHL and AHL affiliate, as well as brief stints with the big club. Before last season, he was acquired by the Winnipeg Jets, where he went pointless in 9 games, before spending the remainder of the season in St. John’s and Portland of the AHL.
Brett Festerling (26 years)
A heart and soul kind of player, Festerling has enjoyed a fairly long and successful professional career since, yes, also helping lead the Giants to the 2007 Memorial Cup. Definitely a stay at home defenseman, Festerling spent most of his time in the AHL, but appeared in 83 games for the Anaheim Ducks (registering 8 assists), and most recently 5 games with the Winnipeg Jets (going pointless), who traded for him, in 2011-12. He wrapped up last season with the AHL’s St. John’s IceCaps. His contract was not renewed by the Jets, so Festerling decided to leave North America and sign on with the DEL’s Nuremberg Ice Tigers in Germany (his twin brother Garrett has played in Germany since 2007-08, most recently for the Hamburg Freezers)
Mario Bliznak (25 years)
One of only 2 Giants drafted by the Canucks (though drafted out of Slovakia), Bliznak spent 3 seasons in their organization after finishing his WHL career in Vancouver in 06-07 with a Memorial Cup. These 3 seasons included a total of 6 games with the Canucks themselves, during which Bliznak scored first NHL goal and only NHL point (in his 3rd game). After that same 2010-11 year though, after finishing up with the Manitoba Moose in the AHL, the Canucks chose not to renew his contract, and so Bliznak spent last season playing for HC Sparta Praha in the Czech Extraliga, as well as suiting up for his native Slovakia at the World Hockey Championship. Starting next season, Bliznak will play out of Slovakia for HC Slovan Bratislava, a dominant Slovakian squad that will join the KHL for 2012-13.