Giants cut down to size by injuries
Coach McKee forced to tighten up play and adopt a simpler game until regulars return
’We are playing to get points here,’ says Giants head coach Jason McKee. ‘We have to play a certain way. We know that with the situation we are in. I think our guys will buy into that.’
The fast-paced, fun-loving Vancouver Giants are on hold for the time being, it would seem.
With Vancouver missing six regulars to injury or illness as of Wednesday morning, Giants coach Jason McKee is preaching a simpler, more station-to-station game to his players.
“We’ve talked about it and we know the situation we are in and we’re going to have to play a certain style,” said McKee.
“We are going to have to be real responsible in all areas, all guys. We are playing to get points here. We have to play a certain way. We know that with the situation we are in. I think our guys will buy into that.”
McKee has been pushing for an uptempo, offensive-minded approach this season to take advantage of the Giants’ puck-moving defence. Vancouver went into a Wednesday game at the Portland Winterhawks missing at least three regular rearguards, though, with Darian Skeoch (upper body injury), Matt Barberis (upper body injury) and Dylan Plouffe (lower body injury) all sidelined. A fourth blueliner, Alex Kannok Leipert (lower body injury), was listed as doubtful.
That meant the Giants are expected to rely on call-ups Joel Sexsmith and Parker Hendren to round out their defence corps for the time being.
Giants general manager Glen Hanlon is hopeful that both Skeoch and Kannok Leipert will be back Friday, when Vancouver is home to the Edmonton Oil Kings.
Even with that, this remains a particularly difficult stretch for Vancouver, considering they are at the Victoria Royals on Saturday (7 p.m., TSN 1410) and then back at the LEC on Sunday (4 p.m., TSN 1040) to face the Red Deer Rebels.
Vancouver is trying to nail down its first playoff berth in four seasons and possibly home ice advantage for the first round. Going into Wednesday action, Vancouver (2918-5-3) was six points in back of the Victoria Royals (34-20-3-1) for second spot in the B.C. Division, with
three games in hand.
They were also 10 points up on the fourth-place Kamloops Blazers (2626-1-3) with a game in hand.
The top three teams from the B.C. and U.S. divisions make the Western Conference playoffs, along with two wild cards. The second-place team in B.C. has home ice advantage in the first round.
Finding ways to get points with an injury-depleted lineup will obviously help that cause.
“The biggest thing is playing simple,” Vancouver forward Dawson Holt said of this stretch. “We can’t turn pucks over and give teams easy offence. It’s not the prettiest game. It’s not end to end. But it works.”
Plouffe and Barberis are expected to be sidelined into next week at the very least, as are centres Milos Roman (ankle) and Owen Hardy (illness). Roman, who had missed 12 straight games going into Wednesday, is slated to begin skating again on Friday, according to Hanlon, and the hope is he’s ready to go again two weeks after that.
Roman had been Vancouver’s No. 1 centre for much of the season.
Vancouver had been relatively healthy prior to the Roman injury. Winger Tyler Benson (off-season sports hernia surgeries) missed the first 12 games and defenceman Bailey Dhaliwal (shoulder surgery) had his season shut down in October.
In previous seasons, the Giants struggled with long-term medical issues. For instance, Benson played just 63 games in his second and third seasons combined as a Giant after playing 62 as a rookie in 2014-15, and winger Ty Ronning was limited to just 24 games in that campaign, his sophomore season.