Giants' goalie Liam Liston made 24 saves on 30 shots.
Photograph by: Gerry Kahrmann, PNG
VANCOUVER - In a season of one calamity after another, the Vancouver Giants received further bad news this week when veteran goalie Liam Liston announced his decision to leave the team and head back to school.
Liston, 19, lasted just three months with the Giants. He was acquired June 27 for two picks in the 2013 WHL bantam draft, a third and a sixth, and it was hoped he could fill the role as the No. 1 netminder. However, he started poorly, missed a month due to injury and never hit any kind of stride.
He plans to enrol in the University of Alberta, take political science courses and then apply to law school. He insisted Thursday he is done with hockey.
“It's time for me to get on with the next chapter of my life,” Liston said in an interview. “I always told myself that when the day came that I had to force myself to come to the rink instead of enjoying coming to the rink, it might be time to look at moving on. It's not like I just woke up one day and decided this was it. But over a period of time, when I was exploring my options, it turned out this was the best thing for me to do.
“I want to pursue some other stuff, get an education and hopefully go into law,” he continued. “It will give me a chance to be a normal kid, which I haven't been able to experience for 16 years or whatever it's been. It's going to be a nice change.”
Liston, a native of St. Alberta, Alta., leaves the Giants with dismal numbers. He was 1-10-0-0 in 11 starts with a 4.53 goals against average and .836 save percentage and lost the starting job to 16-year-old rookie Payton Lee. In his last spot start, Dec. 15 in Prince George, Liston surrendered six goals on 30 shots.
Once regarded as an elite prospect, Liston never fulfilled that promise. He played in the World Under-17 Challenge three seasons ago and in the CHL Top Prospects Game in 2011. However, he was never drafted by an NHL team and then began drifting around the WHL, moving from Brandon to Lethbridge and then the Giants. He was a third-round pick in the 2009 bantam draft, 57th overall by Brandon.
With Liston's departure, the goaltending is now in the hands of Lee and 17-year-old Tyler Fuhr. The latter has not played since a Nov. 18 game against the Saskatoon Blades when he was beaten five times on 34 shots. Fuhr's numbers are not much better than Liston's. He is 2-5-0-0 with a 4.47 GAA and .839 save rate.
Fuhr will be pressed into the starter's role in the short term – the Giants are at home Friday to the Kelowna Rockets – as Lee is currently away at the Under-17 Challenge being played in Quebec. Lee, a Cranbrook native, is a member of Team Pacific. Two other Giants, forward Thomas Foster and defenceman Reid Zalitach, are also at the Under-17 Challenge. The three 16-year-olds are scheduled to rejoin the Giants in Edmonton on Jan. 5.
Giants head coach DonHay admitted Thursday he had no inkling that Liston was planning to leave the team, especially at a time when Lee was away and there would be quality minutes available. Vancouver has five games in eight days before Lee returns.
“It's just a season of a lot of surprises and unexpected things happening,” lamented Hay. “This is just another one. We'll deal with it and we'll move on. I didn't find out about Liam's decision until about one o'clock Wednesday afternoon. He came in and we chatted and he expressed his desire to move on with his life. Hockey isn't first and foremost with him right now.”
Paul Fricker, the Giants goaltending coach, has worked with Liston since training camp began in late August and said he wasn't surprised at Liston's 'retirement' decision.
“It was a tough year for him right from the get-go,” Fricker explained. “Every time he seemed to get some traction, something would happen. I think that Liam, like all of us, when we're feeling good we're into things and when we're not, we're doubting ourselves.
“He had a lot of ups and downs throughout the last few years so I think there were indications this might happen. He never actually said anything to me, one way or another, but I'm not surprised, no.”
Fuhr, meanwhile, will have a chance to regain the form he showed in training camp and during the early part of the season.
“It's a big opportunity for me and I'll just have to make the most of it,” he said.
The Giants have summoned Junior B goalie Alex Ahnert on emergency from the Delta Ice Hawks to back up Fuhr. Ahnert, a 19-year-old from Ladner, is 8-3-1 with the Hawks and has a .932 save percentage
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