VANCOUVER - Vancouver Giants captain Wes Vannieuwenhuizen has the most letters on his jersey name bar and now the fewest teeth in his mouth.
The 20-year-old defenceman took a puck through the lips in the Giants' last game, a 9-1 loss Sunday against the Tri-City Americans, and lost three chiclets. He has the Bobby Clarke smile going and almost seems proud of it.
In fact, when he was a youngster growing up in Chilliwack he assured his mother there was no need for braces on his teeth because he'd probably lose them anyway.
“Then it ended up happening,” Vannieuwenhuizen said Thursday, chuckling at his prediction come true. “That's the way she goes. My mom told me it was bound to happen because I had so many problems with my front teeth before. I think I've had them chipped about four or five times already.”
Vannieuwenhuzien was the architect of his dental demise, too. He was trying to deflect a shot out of harm's way but instead the puck rode up his stick and smacked him squarely. In addition to the trio of lost teeth, he also suffered a fractured upper palate and a cut on his lower lip that required four stitches. Despite the wounds, he plans to play Friday against the Portland Winterhawks. He'll be wearing a full cage. Game time at Pacific Coliseum is 7:30 p.m.
“I didn't even really feel it happen,” said Vannieuwenhuizen. “I didn't think it was as bad as it was even though I was bleeding pretty good. Surprisingly, there hasn't been a lot of pain. It throbs when I get lots of blood flowing through it but it's nothing serious. It's part of the game.”
After Vannieuwenhuizen had the repairs done during Sunday's contest, he returned to the bench and wanted to continue playing. Head coach Don Hay wisely decided to let him sit.
“Wes is the ultimate warrior,” Hay commented. “He's a tough competitive young man and you have to admire his sacrifice and his willingness to compete in all situations. That's the commitment he has.”
Vannieuwenhuizen says his biggest problem now is eating. As a 215-pound stay-at-home defensive defenceman, he needs to maintain every bit of his strength. So how's he doing it?
“I just cut everything up small and throw it in the back of my mouth,” he explained. “Everyone laughs at me.”
No laughing matter is the task facing the Giants when they meet Portland. The Winterhawks have won nine straight and none of the nine have been close. Their 'smallest' margin of victory during the streak is three goals. The Giants, meanwhile, are 3-3-0-0 in their last six but still remain dead last in the Western Conference with 10 points.
The good news, if you can call it good, is the teams directly in front of the Giants are struggling as well. The Everett Silvertips have lost seven consecutive, the Victoria Royals have dropped five in a row, the Prince George Cougars have dropped eight of 10 and the Seattle Thunderbirds seven of 10.
“I think there are five teams in our conference who are playing well and five teams who aren't,” Hay said. “So, I mean, it's up to us to catch the teams who aren't playing well. We are definitely looking at the standings. If we put together a couple of wins here, we can get back in the thick of things.”
G-NOTES: Netminder Payton Lee, 16, is scheduled to start against the Winterhawks. Lee is 2-2-0-0 with a 3.27 GAA and .869 save percentage... Veteran goalie Liam Liston (ankle) remains out along with forwards Cain Franson (head), Thomas Foster (shoulder) and Tanner Moar (upper body).
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