Vancouver Giants’ new captain has name to remember … as for spelling it?
Coach Don Hay sticks to Wes or Vandy, as Vannieuwenhuizen packs a punch on WHL team’s blue line
METRO VANCOUVER — It took a sheepish Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault about three years before he could tell twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin apart. Vancouver Giants coach Don Hay has a similar dilemma with his new captain Wes Vannieuwenhuizen.
Hay has trouble pronouncing Vannieuwenhuizen's tongue-twister of a last name, even though the hard-rock defenceman is in his third season with the Western Hockey League club.
“I just call him Wes or Vandy,” a chuckling Hay said Tuesday at Giants training camp in Ladner. “That's easiest for me.”
Vannieuwenhuizen is from Chilliwack and explained that the family name, which literally means “from the new house” in Dutch, was originally two words.
“I'm pretty sure the normal spelling is 'van' with a lower case 'v' and then 'Nieuwenhuizen' with an upper case 'N' and a space in between,” he said. “But my family spells it as one word to keep it simple. That's the way it is on both my passport and my birth certificate.”
Whatever the spelling, Vannieuwenhuizen has battled his way into Hay's heart. He's 6-2 and 215 pounds and tougher than a night in jail. He fought 19 times in his rookie WHL campaign and another 19 times last year. It's not his skill package — think Andrew Alberts of the Canucks — but rather his work ethic and team-first attitude that prompted Hay to appoint him captain.
“We drafted Wes as a 15-year-old so he's been to our training camps and he knows the Giant way,” Hay said. “I think he's a quality young man and a real warrior. He was a surprise when he made the team as an 18-year-old and he just kept on surprising everybody. He kept on showing his leadership skills. He wouldn't cheat on anything. He wouldn't cheat on drills and he wouldn't cheat on his off-ice workouts. So he's a really good example for younger guys to follow.”
Vannieuwenhuizen understands he has been handed significant responsibility. The Giants are considered a marquee franchise in the WHL and there are standards to be upheld. Mark Fistric, Brett Festerling, Spencer Machacek, Lance Bouma and Craig Cunnigham, all of them in pro hockey, have worn the 'C' under Hay's watch.
“To be the leader of this organization is really something else and I'm proud of that,” said Vannieuwenhuizen. “I've been an assistant captain here for a year and a half so I know what it's about. We learn a lot about leadership and stuff like that around here and it's more than just hockey. Being captain, you have to lead by example. I think it can be anybody as long as you're working hard and setting a good example all that time. That's the biggest thing.”
Vannieuwenhuizen has not been drafted by an NHL team but hopes wearing the 'C', accompanied by a successful Giants' season, will open a door for him. He has three goals and 309 penalty minutes in 133 regular-season WHL appearances so there isn't much subtlety to his game. It took him 113 outings to net his first goal.
“I feel that my skills have gotten a little better and that I've grown over the years,” said Vannieuwenhuizen, who had a tryout with the Edmonton Oilers last September. “I'm going to try and catch someone's attention this season because, when you get to this league, you want to keep going.”
G-NOTES: Giants first-line left-winger Marek Tvrdon has again been delayed in Slovakia due to visa issues and won't arrive in Vancouver until Friday, according to Giants GM Scott Bonner ... The Giants will hold their annual intra-squad game Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Ladner Leisue Centre with honorary coaches scheduled to be Evander Kane, Lance Bouma, Spencer Bennett, Paul Albers and Craig Cunningham. Admission is by donation.
On Twitter: Twitter.com/elliottpap
© Copyright (c) The Vancouver Sun