Giants will need to mark Marek
Former teammate Tvrdon is with the high-flying Rockets now
Marek Tvrdon making nice when talking about the Vancouver Giants on Thursday wasn’t apparently just a public politeness ploy.
A former teammate says that the Slovak leftwinger has been positive behind the scenes, too, about his three-plus seasons with the Giants, even though he seemed to have a testy relationship with coach Don Hay and the team assigned his jersey No. 17 out from under him to another player at training camp this fall.
The former teammate admitted to being surprised about Tvrdon’s stance. Maybe he’s wiser. Maybe he learned from his travails of this season.
The Pacific Coliseum faithful will get their chance to see what Tvrdon is like as a Kelowna Rocket for the first time since that Jan. 8 trade on Saturday (7 p.m., TEAM 1040). The game is the back half of a home-and-home set between the Giants and Rockets, following a Vancouver visit to Prospera Place Friday (7:05 p.m., TEAM 1410).
“Don Hay made me work hard,” said the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Tvrdon, 21. “I learned good things there. I learned how to be a pro.
“I am excited to play against Vancouver. I spent a pretty good time there. It’s something different. I had never been traded before. I have good friends there and it was a good experience for me.”
He’s a character. Tvrdon has an arm covered in tattoos of the cast of the movie Gangs of New York.
His days in Vancouver were noteworthy for various reasons. He had a 31-goal campaign sandwiched around two years with seasonending surgeries (shoulder, blood clot). He could have played 216 regular season games with the Giants, but ended up with just 90. The Detroit Red Wings used a fourth-round pick in the 2011 NHL draft, even though he had played just 12 games that season.
His game regularly spiked when he knew Detroit personnel were in the building. That, in particular, infuriated Hay, leading him to being quoted saying things like, “It’s disappointing. He can play like that all the time. He’s capable.”
As an over-ager this season, Tvrdon was eligible to play in the minors. That was his aim. He still came to Vancouver’s training camp, but club brass took the No. 17 jersey that he had worn and gave it to prized rookie Tyler Benson instead. Tvrdon was assigned No. 15.
Veterans get first crack at jerseys. Tvrdon admitted to being surprised initially, but said, “I knew I was not coming back there.”
Tvrdon lasted one game with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins before being shipped down another rung on the hockey ladder to the Toledo Walleye of the ECHL. Frustrated with his development there, Detroit offered to send him back to junior, but wanted him to go to a contender. Vancouver obviously didn’t want to break up their mix to bring him back.
Ideally, you don’t trade a guy who had 107 points in 90 career regular season contests with you to a team in your division, and one that you play in four of your final eight games of the season to boot. There just weren’t any other suitors for Vancouver if they wanted to receive something in return for Tvrdon.
Kelowna traded fellow over-age forward Zach Franko to the Kootenay Ice for bantam draft picks to open up a spot, and then sent a 2014 second-round selection to Vancouver for the rights to Tvrdon.
He started slowly, but, playing alongside Rourke Chartier, 17, and Nick Merkley, 16, he’s started to find his form. He has 10 points in his past five games, giving him nine goals and 19 points in 20 games total in Kelowna.
The Rockets (50-9-0-4) come into the weekend in top spot in the WHL and No. 1 in the national rankings. The Giants (30-24-7-3) are looking to catch the Everett Silvertips (31-237-2) for sixth spot in the Western Conference. They’re one point back, with eight games remaining. Everett has a game in hand.
It means that the Giants will likely need to get points off the Rockets to climb up the standings, and they’ll need find a way to slow down Tvrdon to do just that.
“He’ll be excited to play against all of us, excited to play against Don,” said Vancouver forward Dalton Sward.
Forward Jackson Houck added: “When he’s going, he’s really going. We know that. We’ll have to shut him down early.”