Chiefs push Giants to early playoff exit
Ousted by Spokane in first-round series, Vancouver will have big holes to fill to be competitive
By Elliott Pap, Vancouver Sun
April 3, 2012
Vancouver Giant Neil Manning to play university hockey.
Photograph by: Steve Bosch, PNG Files, Vancouver Sun
Good enough to win 40 games during the WHL's regular sea-son, the Vancouver Giants weren't good enough to win four more in the playoffs and found themselves saying their goodbyes on Monday.
The Giants were ousted Sun-day by the Spokane Chiefs in six games in a best-of-seven series they once led 2-0. They were outscored 14-6 in the final four games, their offence shut down and their goaltending second best.
"Spokane got better as the series went on and I don't think we improved enough as the series went on," a sombre head coach Don Hay said Monday as players backed their bags for home. "It was disappointing that once we were up 2-0, we couldn't find a way to put doubt in their minds."
So now it's 'wait-'til-next-year' time for the Giants, who have some gigantic holes to fill on their roster. Captain Brendan Gallagher is moving on to the Montreal Canadiens' organization while veteran defenceman Neil Manning, too old to return, is planning to play Canadian university hockey, most likely at UBC. Goalie Adam Morrison, also too old to return, was signed by the Boston Bruins and will play in their system.
GM Scott Bonner indicated Monday he has two priorities: a No. 1 netminder and more grit throughout his lineup.
"We have to identify more competitive people and we have to get a goalie," Bonner said. "I don't think two kids works that well so we'll have to find an older goaltender."
As it sits, the Giants' netminding depth chart includes Jackson Whistle, 16, and Payton Lee, 15. Whistle won just once as Morrison's backup while Lee won twice in a call-up situation. Bonner admitted he didn't think the Giants were close to contending for a championship. They have been eliminated from the first round in consecutive seasons.
"Never mind winning the first round, or trying to win the first round, you want to be able to compete for the big deal," Bonner said. "Right now, I don't see us being in that mix and we're paid to get there. So we have to figure out how to get back where we want. We have a decent defence corps coming back, which is a really good starting point for us."
David Musil, assuming he doesn't make the Edmonton Oilers, will be the blue-line kingpin along with rugged Wes Vannieuwenhuizen and skilled Brett Kulak, the latter expected to be a mid-round pick in this June's NHL entry draft. Up front, Marek Tvrdon and Cain Franson should lead the offence. Jordan Martinook (40 goals) might return as a 20-year-old if he isn't drafted or signed by an NHL organization.
Assistant coach Glen Hanlon indicated Monday he plans to return and Hay would like him back. Hanlon stepped away from the professional leagues last summer to spend more time being "a better dad" to his son Jackson.
"It was a very enjoyable year," Hanlon said. "As we speak, I'm happy with what I'm doing. My family is really happy, my son is really happy."
Melancholy, rather than happiness, was the prevailing mood among the players, especially Manning and Gallagher. Manning spent five seasons in a Giants' uniform and is their all-time leader in games played (310). Gallagher played four years and leaves as the franchise's all-time leading scorer (136-144-270).
"It was obviously weird waking up this morning knowing junior hockey was done," said Manning, 20. "I spent five years on this team, a quarter of my life. I guess it's the start to a new era and, although I'm not 100 per cent decided, I'm pretty sure I'll go to school next year."
Gallagher, 19, will not be joining the Habs' farm team in Hamilton as the Bulldogs are out of the AHL playoff picture.
"I guess the next chapter in my book is trying to make the NHL," Gallagher said. "My time here with the Giants has been pretty special. I owe a lot to the organization. I'll remember them for the rest of my career."
Only one Giant will continue to skate this season as Tvrdon, a Detroit fourth-round pick last June, will report to the Red Wings' Grand Rapids farm team.
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