By Dickson Liong - March 9, 2015
When the Vancouver Giants played host to the Moose Jaw Warriors on Feb. 18, it was the Giants' annual Acceptance Day. Thousands of elementary school students were in attendance and took part in a flashmob to promote anti-bullying.
The Giants defeated the Warriors 3-2 in overtime, and the Vancouver faithful left the Pacific Coliseum with smiles on their faces. For me, however, I needed to write a story for the Giants’ website.
Then it dawned on me. I was going to write a story about my experiences with bullying. I really felt that with Acceptance Day just happening, my experiences could help anyone who might read the piece. I hoped that my story might have an impact on someone.
It did, and it was CTV's Jason Pires and his videographer, Gary Rutherford.
Just two days after the article was posted, I had gone out for dinner. I didn't take my cell phone with me because I just wanted an hour or so to myself, some time without having to deal with work. When I got home at 6 p.m., I checked my phone and saw that I had missed a call. I didn't know who it was, though.
Luckily, the caller had left a message. It was Pires calling to ask to do an interview with me about the story that I had written. I called him back, and told him I would be pleased to do it.
“When do you want to do this?” I asked.
“Let's see…is tomorrow okay? Gary and I can meet you at the Coliseum at 3 p.m.”
“No problem,” I said. “Thanks for the call, I'll see you tomorrow.”
I got to the Giants' office the next day and went up to the press box and worked on some things as I waited for Pires and Rutherford's arrival. I had sent Pires a text message telling him that I'd be there and to come and find me when they arrived.
At 2 p.m., I heard someone's dress shoes clicking on the floor as they approached. It got louder and louder, so I looked behind me and there was Pires, walking down the stairs on the way to my seat in the press box.
“There's the man I was looking for,” Pires said.
“Jason Pires!” I said. “How are you doing? You're early, I thought you said you'd be here at 3? It's only 2.”
“Yeah,” he said. “Is it okay if we shoot now? Gary's already set up downstairs.”
“Yeah, no problem,” I replied. “I'm just bugging you.”
After finishing on the afternoon of Feb. 25, the segment was scheduled to air on CTV News Vancouver at 6 p.m.
I was excited. I was nervous. I didn't know what to expect. All that mattered to me was that my story might affect and help someone else.
Leading up to the segment, although I did tell people to watch the news, I didn't tell them I was going to be on it. I was sitting in front of my television, interested in seeing what the segment was going to look like.
At around 6:50 p.m., it finally was time. I was extremely impressed. Pires, Rutherford and their editors did a heck of a job.
Moments after my story aired . . . well, I didn't expect what happened next.
I was baffled by the number of emails and tweets I received. I had expected some reaction, but nothing close to what it actually was. As I was getting all the messages on Twitter, I tried my best to retweet and respond to every single one. I felt that was the least I could do. I wanted to show my appreciation for all the support. I made sure to answer every phone call that came my way, telling people that their support meant the world to me. As well, I tried my best to reply to every email I received and sent along the same message.
For all those people who took the time to not only watch the segment, but call, tweet or email me personally telling me how much the story inspired them . . . well, it really is something I can't put into words.
I'm so happy that my story can help people and I truly hope it continues to.
After all, that’s all I ever wanted.
By Dickson Liong - February 22, 2015
It may be hard to believe, but the simple act of acceptance is hard for many. I have been bullied for my entire life. In fact, for whatever reason, it continues to this day. I can recall kids come up to me and calling me every vulgar name one can think of. As I got older, it became more of, well . . . no longer would the bullies attack me to my face, but they would do so on the Internet.
In these days of social media, something like that is extremely easy to do. I've also had people who I thought cared about me and were there for me do much the same. Because of this, I went through much of my younger years with low self-esteem. I started believing what the haters were telling me. I felt absolutely worthless.
But, as I soon realized, I wasn't.
When I started with the Vancouver Giants, I didn't have many close relationships in the organization. I knew who people were, though, but only well enough to say hello and goodbye. So, for many months, when it came to attending games, I didn't want to go through the front office. I didn't know many people from the office, so I didn't feel comfortable. I didn't know if they would accept me.
“What if they think I'm a disturbance?” I'd think to myself. “I better just leave them alone.”
Instead, I entered and left through the main doors of the Pacific Coliseum. Then one night, I was dropped off at the rink before the doors were opened to the public. So, I had sent a text message to Sheldon Arsenault, the manager of ticket sales and service, who I knew and with whom I had a good relationship.
“Hey man, can you come out and open the door here?” I wrote.
“Just come through the office,” he replied.
“Are you sure?” I wrote back.
I was hesitant.
“Yeah, man,” he replied.
So, I did. To my surprise, I was accepted with open arms.
“Why didn't you come through here for so long?” people in the office asked.
“I don't know,” I replied, not wanting to answer the question.
As time went on, I developed some of the closest relationships. Some of these people, I can say quite frankly, I consider to be family.
There's one particular game every season that causes me to reflect and think of all the strong relationships I have built. It all started on Jan. 20, 2013, when the Giants were scheduled to play host to the Everett Silvertips. Word had gone out days prior that there was going to be a big event happening during the game.
What was it? I had no idea.
I usually get to the rink two to three hours before puck drop; it's part of my pre-game routine. When I got to my seat in the press box, I could see students gathered together in one section practising a dance.
'What's going on?” I asked Josh Barkoff, who is the Giants’ DJ.
I was confused. But I didn't want to ask questions, so I just sat down in my seat and listened to the teachers yelling instructions to the children. It soon was revealed was it was all about. The Giants were trailing 2-0 to the Silvertips, and there was a stoppage in play. There were four minutes put on the score clock. All of the sudden, Barkoff played “What Makes You Beautiful,” by the boy band One Direction, and a bunch of children got up from their seats and started dancing. Those children weren't just fans who bought tickets in order to attend the game; they were students from elementary schools all over the Lower Mainland.
It clicked with me.
A flash mob was happening in support of anti-bullying. They all had pink shirts with 'Acceptance' written on them. As it turned out, this wouldn’t be the only time this would happen.
It has turned into an annual event, most recently when the Giants played host to the Moose Jaw Warriors on Feb. 18. Students who took part in the flash mob had an opportunity to take a break from class for a day and witness the Giants defeat the Warriors 3-2 in overtime.
Even though the last two flash mobs have been less of a shocker to me, it is still something I'm extremely proud to be a part of. I have three words I live by: live, laugh and smile. I'm a better person because of them.
I'm a different person now.
I don't care about the things that don't matter anymore. That's not to say that I don't still have days when I lose confidence and go back to having low self-esteem. That's not to say that there haven't been times where I let what someone say get to me and cause me to feel worthless.
It happens. That's why there are emotions. I've had times this season where I've felt like that, whatever it was that was getting to me.
That being said, it's important to never dwell on the situation for too long, and I try to make sure to come out of it a better person. It sounds like a cliche, but it's true. I have gone from being a youngster with low self-esteem to someone who has found his true self.
The Giants have been a big part of that.
By Dickson Liong - November 24, 2014
Pat Quinn had a large impact on many people's lives, on and off the ice. Many Canadian kids dream about playing in the National Hockey League and winning the Stanley Cup. It was no different for a young Vancouver boy.
The only thing was, there was no way this lad could ever live that dream, all because of a disability called cerebral palsy that affected his walking. He wasn't going to quit on his dream, though, so he decided to work in media as a writer and cover a team in the NHL. If he couldn’t play in the NHL, he would write about it. Yes, the young lad could hear the naysayers, but he refused to listen.
Then, in the summer of 2011, he got a phone call from one of his connections. There may be an opportunity to interview some of the Vancouver Giants at their annual training camp . . . would he be interested? He was. The young boy arranged to get a ride from Bill Jackson, one of his friends, to the Ladner Leisure Centre, where the Giants held their camp. The young boy was so nervous he had typed up interview sheets with lists of questions. He only expected to interview Giants' players and coaches. But once he reached the parking lot, he soon realized that wasn't going to be the case.
“Wait in the car for a bit,” Jackson said. “I'll see if the Giants are ready for us.”
The boy did what was asked. He sat in the car looking at his interview sheets and waiting for Jackson's return. However, Jackson didn't end up checking on the Giants. When Jackson was on his way to the entrance of the Leisure Centre, he saw Quinn, who owned a piece of the Giants, waiting for a family member.
“Mr. Quinn,” Jackson said.
“Yes?” Quinn replied.
“Do you want to make a young man's life?” Jackson asked.
“What do you mean?” Quinn asked.
“I have someone with me who is here to interview the Giants and I bet he'd love to interview you.”
After about five minutes Jackson came back to the car to get the boy.
“I have your first interview,” Jackson stated.
“Who?” the boy asked.
The boy was shocked. In fact, he was more than shocked . . . he was scared. After all, the man was a legend. He didn't have an interview sheet with questions prepared for Quinn.
Then it clicked.
The boy remembered that Quinn had been the head coach of the Vancouver Canucks when they made it to the Stanley Cup final and went up against the New York Rangers. So, he decided to focus the interview on that.
At the end of the interview, Quinn told the boy, “Well done. I hope to see you along the way and best of luck with the rest of your interviews.”
He would see the boy along the way, as that young boy grew up to be me.
During my seasons with the Giants, the relationship I had with Quinn grew stronger and stronger. He always had a smile on his face. He always spoke to me whenever he saw me and told me to keep going and not to listen to the people who doubted me and that he believed in me. He always made time for me whenever I had questions. He told me to call him if I ever needed anything. I brought a photo of me and Quinn to one of the Giants games this season, hoping for him to autograph it.
I asked one of the game-crew members, “Is Mr. Quinn here tonight?”
“No,” he responded. “I don't think he's doing well. His health isn't great. He's in the hospital.”
I didn't ask many questions, thinking it was the respectful thing to do. I thought he would be OK. So, I left the photo with Sheldon Arsenault, the Giants' ticket manager, and asked if he could help me get it signed if he saw Quinn come by the front office.
“Yep,” Arsenault said.
Quinn never came by, nor will he ever again.
On Monday, at 11:30 a.m., I got a phone call. I had yet to check my emails.
“Pat has died,” I was told. “What?” I said in shock. I wanted to burst into tears right then, but I waited until after hanging up.
It was extremely hard for me to take, and still is. Quinn was not only one of my biggest supporters, but someone who was a friend.
I regret not asking more questions on the day I found out he was in hospital. I couldn't tell him how much he meant to me. Quinn has made me a better person and always will have a special place in my heart. He will be greatly missed.
I am extremely fortunate to say that Pat Quinn had a major impact on my life.
By Dickson Liong - October 29, 2014
The WHL's Vancouver Giants have been on a roller coaster of emotions. Vancouver was all smiles after a dominating 9-1 victory over the Prince George Cougars on Oct. 23. That victory improved its record to 6-1-0-0 when in the friendly confines of the Pacific Coliseum. But despite the victories coming on home ice, the Giants were winless on the road. See, the thing was, the Giants were scheduled to head out on a three-game road trip, visiting the Kamloops Blazers before going to Victoria for back-to-back games against the Royals.
After such a convincing victory over the Cougars, it looked as if it was what the Giants needed to turn things around on the road. That wasn't so. The Giants' woes on the road continued, as they lost to the Blazers 7-2 and fell to the Royals 2-1 and 3-2.
“I think it's just a little bit of finishing it off,” Vancouver forward Carter Popoff said. “At home, we have a lot of confidence when things are going well and we're scoring goals. On the road, we've struggled a little bit to score goals. Once we can't score goals, we kind of shy away from our systems a little bit and we get one-on-one plays. We've just got to stay patient on the road, take the crowds out of it, play greasy games, and get one-goal wins.”
Good news, they didn’t have to...yet. Vancouver was scheduled to play host to the Brandon Wheat Kings on Wednesday. Despite the success at home, though, it wasn't going to be easy to get two points. After all, the Wheat Kings are considered one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. The Giants would have to face the Wheat Kings shorthanded, with forward Tyler Benson and defenceman Ryely McKinstry away at the U-17 World Hockey Challenge in the Sarnia, Ont., area. Benson is projected as one of the top prospects eligible for the 2016 NHL draft. In 12 games with the Giants, he has 11 points, including eight assists.
“There shouldn't really be a difference,” Popoff said. “I mean, we've got a lot of able bodies in our dressing room and a lot of guys that are hungry for ice time. Losing a guy like Benny, it hurts us offensively. But there's other guys and guys that need to step up in an absence like that.”
As well, Vancouver captain Dalton Sward suffered a lower-body injury during the road trip and wasn’t fit to dress against the Wheat Kings. Let's not forget, too, that Ty Ronning and Jakob Stukel, two of the Giants' sophomore forwards, were already out with shoulder and thumb injuries, respectively. Vancouver lost 5-2 to the Wheat Kings and extended their losing streak to four games.
“It's always about us,” Giants' head coach Troy Ward said. “We always just focus on ourselves. I mean, we knew what Brandon was capable of doing, we knew how they would probably play tonight. I thought we were well prepared that way.”
Vancouver wasn't going to use the missing players as an excuse. After all, Brandon was missing players, too.
“We weren't as good as we need to be, plain and simple,” Ward said. “Regardless, we have 20 people that wore the jersey, and they had 20 people and their 20 were better than ours. It doesn't matter, experience or anything else. I mean, it's a team game and as a team, we could have been better.
“I expected their style, we got exactly what was advertised in our pre-scout. Unfortunately, we couldn't counter-punch a lot of things. I thought they executed some things very well on some chances. We knew they were a highly-skilled team. Obviously, they lead the league in goals. They have a really good feel for the game. What they make difficult for you, especially with the group we had tonight, is that you have to defend four players all the time. They use the fourth player constantly, and that was a factor in the game tonight, which was a little bit overwhelming for us at times. Then at times, we did some really good things.”
Being hungry wasn't one of them, according to Ward.
“I think the thing what our team has got to learn is that we have to show up with the same figure we have when it's 4-1,” Ward confessed. “That's the hard part for our team yet. That's the growth of our team. I would say that even when we have all our healthy bodies here, I still think the team in maturation process needs to be hungrier in general. We're not hungry enough prior to a game or in what I just told (the team) tonight, it was practice. We're just not there yet as a group and against certain teams like this, we're going to get exposed.
“I think our older guys can set the tone because they've been here and they’ve been through the (rigours). They understand what it takes. But in general, it's everybody. In today's game, if you're not making headway by 18-years-old in the (WHL), it's tough to make it (to the pros). You can't just look to the older guys. When you're 16 (and) 17, you've got to be pushing. You can't wait to play (at) 18, in my opinion.”
The Giants won't be just pushing during games, but also in practice.
“Our demeanour kind of has to change a bit,” Popoff said. “There are a lot of guys in this room who have gone through losing seasons in this organization, and it's not acceptable. We've got to bear down and…we're all friends on this team, but sometimes it's good to go out in practice and battle each other hard and push each other to get better.”
Vancouver visits the Seattle Thunderbirds on Saturday, and is desperate for a victory.
By Dickson Liong - October 20, 2014
It isn’t often that Don Hay has had to use the visiting team entrance at the Pacific Coliseum.
Hay led the Kamloops Blazers to consecutive Memorial Cup championships in 1993-94 and 1994-95 as their head coach. He was on a path to becoming a legend in the city. His success with Kamloops was followed by stints with the Calgary Flames, Phoenix Coyotes, Anaheim Mighty Ducks, Tri-City Americans and Utah Grizzlies.
Then, prior to the 2004-05 season, Hay became the head coach of the Vancouver Giants.
Despite having less of the spotlight on him in Vancouver, he did much the same as he had done in Kamloops, and helped the team to their first Memorial Cup championship in 2006-07. After seven more seasons, his time with the Giants would come to an end.
Vancouver finished No. 7 in the Western Conference and went against the No. 2 Portland Winterhawks in the quarterfinal round last season. Many observers didn't give the Giants much of a chance to win a best-or-seven series, and Vancouver ended up getting swept.
Hay had signed a five-year contract extension on Aug. 27, 2010, and had one more year left. It wasn't going to be with the Giants, though. Vancouver released him from his contract on May 1 to allow him to join the Blazers, who were looking for a head coach.
"Tom Gaglardi, the Blazers' owner, contacted me last week and asked for permission to speak with Don," Ron Toigo, the Giants' majority owner, said in the team's press release at the time. "I'm sure Don is looking forward to moving home and spending more time with his family and enjoying the time with his grandkids.
“He came here when we were a young franchise and helped develop an identity for the Giants, and showed us how to win. He leaves with a Memorial Cup, a WHL championship, and five B.C Division titles. I can't say how much we appreciate what Don has done and what he has meant to the franchise."
That left Vancouver looking for a head coach, something it hadn't done for 10 seasons. The Giants were looking for someone with a different approach. They were open about the fact that they wanted someone that coached an offensive, puck-possession style of game.
Meanwhile, after the Abbsoford Heat, the AHL affiliate for the Calgary Flames, lost $12.7 million, the city had had enough. It paid $5.5 million to terminate its contract with the team on April 15.
Troy Ward, the head coach of the Heat, wasn't going to join the team at their new location, as the Flames chose not to renew his contract. Ward submitted his resume for the Giants' head-coaching job, and on July 17, they hired him. A good word put in by former Vancouver forward Lance Bouma didn't hurt either. He played for Ward with the Heat.
“When we asked him style-wise and so forth, it sounds like he has some similarities to what Mike Johnston (the former head coach of the Winterhawks) played in Portland,” Scott Bonner, the Giants' general manager, said at Ward's introductory press conference. “I think that with the dynamics that we have coming with forwards Tyler Benson and Ty Ronning, we're going to have to change our style a bit. We're going to have to play more offensive and less checking. Hopefully, he can pass the message to these kids.”
Ward has come as advertised. In eight games, the Giants were 4-4-0-0. More notably, though, they have combined for 30 goals. Add another three to the total, as they shut out the the visiting Blazers 3-0 on Oct. 17, spoiling Hay's return to the Pacific Coliseum.
“It's pretty good, we needed a win anyways whether it was against Don or not,” Giants' forward Carter Popoff said. “(A win against Don) is really indifferent for us, we lost two in a row in Prince George that were tough games so we wanted to get back on home ice and get a win.”
It was apparent the styles between Ward and Hay weren't the same.
“I think it's a lot to do with puck procession and pace,” Popoff said. “With Troy, he really wants us coming through the neutral zone and holding on to the puck, making plays. I mean, he still wants us to play hard, but I think Don preached more of a crash-and-bang style of game as you could see out there. They were working hard, they chipped it by our defencemen every chance they could. I think that's the big difference.”
As well, for some of the Giants, it has been a breath of fresh air to have a new head coach.
“I think for a lot of guys, it was a good change,” Popoff confessed. “I mean, a coach is a coach. You're going to have to play whatever style he wants you to play, so it's not a big deal to a lot of the guys.”
Nevertheless, Hay will forever be one of the WHL's most respected coaches, especially in Vancouver.