Vancouver Giants fiddle to fix the middle as faceoffs become a growing concern
Pre-season problems centre around WHL team's inability to win faceoffs
Don Hay isn't interested in doughnut or bagel jokes as he seeks to fill a hole at centre for his Vancouver Giants.
The Giants have only one win in four Western Hockey League pre-season games and their latest loss, a 5-4 overtime decision Friday to Kamloops in which they squandered a 4-1 lead, had Hay in an owly mood.
The Giants surrendered a goal to the Blazers in the final minute of regulation (extra attacker) and then another in the last two seconds of overtime (power play). Nonetheless, Hay was bemoaning lost faceoffs as one reason for the Giants' downfall.
“I mean, we don't have a lot of options at centre,” Hay said. “We are experimenting with different guys. We had trouble winning faceoffs so we didn't start with pucks very often. That really hurt us.”
The Giants were hoping that 20-year-old Jason Martinook would be their No. 1 centre this season but he signed with the Phoenix Coyotes on Aug. 31 and left for Phoenix three days later. He has been told he will not be sent back to junior.
In Friday's loss, which dropped the Giants' pre-season record to 1-2-1, Hay deployed converted left-winger Nathan Burns in the middle along with returnee Riley Keiser and rookies Thomas Foster and Carter Popoff. Second-year man Anthony Ast, also a possible centre, missed the game because of a suspension.
“Nathan scored a nice goal but he has been average,” Hay said. “He has to learn how to take faceoffs. It's a pretty important skill and we don't really have one guy who is winning a lot of faceoffs for us. You need someone who can win you a faceoff. It can be a young guy or an old guy, whoever can do it. We're looking for one.”
The Giants, who open the 2012-13 regular season on Sept. 21 against the Victoria Royals, have two more pre-season tests to try and solve their riddle in the middle. They entertain the Royals at Ladner Arena on Friday in a rare 5 p.m. start and then travel to Victoria for a matinee on Saturday.
“The Kamloops game was a good gauge,” Hay concluded. “That's what I told the guys. It was good to see how some guys can handle some pressure. Some guys didn't handle it very well.”
The Giants' new No. 1 netminder, 19-year-old Liam Liston, allowed just one goal in the Kamloops loss while Payton Lee, 16, was in for the final four.
G-NOTES: Jackson Whistle, the Giants' backup goalie last season, was traded Friday to Kelowna for a 2014 third-round bantam pick ... In addition to honouring Joe Sakic on Feb. 1, the Giants will also have a night for Vancouver Canuck icon Trevor Linden on Dec. 1.
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